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  • By Alessandro Schiavone

What does possible Chelsea or Spurs Champions League opposition PSG hold up their sleeves?



By Alessandro Schiavone at Parc des Princes, Paris


PSG 1-0 Stade Brestois 


Wembley nemesis Donnarumma is back. But what have we learned about possible Chelsea or Spurs Champions League rivals PSG? 


Odds-on Champions League favourites Paris-Saint Germain returned to the top of the Ligue 1 table after a convincing, yet fortuitous, 1-0 win victory over Stade Brestois.


Neymar's unstoppable drive in the 30th minute was enough for manager Christophe Galthier's bunch of superstars to get over the line.


Yet despite being the largely superior side against the third-from-bottom visitors, PSG had to rely on Wembley enemy Gianluigi Donnarumma to get the three points on board.


The Italian, in a timely reminder of the Euro 2020 final shootout when he denied both Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after diving to his left, rediscovered his old penalty saving skills by repelling Islam Simani on the same side.


With Chelsea and Tottenham likely to advance to the round of 16 and beyond, what did we learn about the Ligue 1 colossus and potential future opponents of London clubs?


No ex-Premier League stars


Did you know? While other European heavyweights such as Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and AC Milan all have at least one player with a past in the Premier League, PSG don't.


In fact, all of the 16 protagonists who helped the Parc des Princes outfit to the 1-0 win over Michel Der Zakarian's battling side have yet to play in arguably the world's most competitive division.


So while teams from the rest of Europe often look over to the Premier League for sales to strengthen their team, the same can't be said about PSG. They don't mind about bargains.


Most of the players on their books are either made in Serie A like Marquinhos, Donnarumma or Fabian Ruiz or in La Liga such as Lionel Messi, Neymar, Sergio Ramos. Or as in Mbappé's case in France itself. Could a lack of valuable top-level Premier League experience be one of the reasons why the affluent Parisians have yet to win the coveted Champions League?


Messi, still decisive but no longer unplayable


Lionel Messi still has the X-factor. No doubts. He made Neymar's opener with a lovely weighted through ball which took out the entire Brest defence. The Argentine, a record seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, can still creste a goal chance out of nowhere. But at 35, he sadly longer has the legs from before to play opponents single-handedly off the park. If in his Barcelona heyday there was no certainty of neutralising him even by doubling or tripling down on him, now it's become a less complicated affair to find him out. And in front of goal, he is also less of a killer. A poor return of 15 goals in 43 appearances under the Eiffel Tower since his August 2021 arrival was exacerbated by three missed chances as the 35-year-old fired another blank. His fifth in seven Ligue 1 outings.


First his volley hit Mbappé's foot instead of the back of the net. Then, released by Neymar, he saw his tame shot come off Brest keeper Bizot's boot. Then in the second period, he directed a free header against the outside of the post from range. Thirteen years ago he scored a similar header against Manchester United in the Champions League final to seal a 2-0 win.


Messi doesn't need any introduction but if anyone forgot how good he was it's worth recalling that whether it was with his feet or with his mind, he was a couple of steps ahead of the rest of the world. Simply too good. He used to beat his markers with ease,  run the channels before picking out a teammate (still does it) or scoring a screamer himself (has become harder these days). In his finest hours he surged towards goal on his own and scored as if he has just had a cup of coffee. Messi made everything look easy, even the difficult things. Now he makes the easy things look difficult at times.

The likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Wesley Fofana, Eric Dier and Cristian Romero are looking forward to facing arguably the greatest footballer of all time. They won't be ridiculed like Jérome Boateng, Virgil Van Dijk or Sergio Ramos in some memorable Champions League showdowns.


Neymar has turned the page


Rumours did the rounds that PSG and Christophe Galthier wanted to cut their losses on the once inconsistent and (ex) bling bling prima donna superstar Neymar. Be it for his inconsistency and show-off habits. He was slammed for his show pony skills that led nowhere, apparent dives that infuriated his teammates and opponents alike and careless behaviour.  And of course the frustrating routine of being injured for key games in crucial moments of the season didn't help. Yet, he looks as fit and hungry as ever since Galthier replaced Mauricio Pochettino. And it’s clear to see that the 30-year-old is using that near-rejection as a way to keep the fire inside him burning. Teed up by Messi, he fired the club de la capitale into a half-hour lead. And he’s already been involved in a staggering total of 16 goals in only nine games, more than Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Kai Havertz combined.

Neymar has always possessed tons of class, trickery and elegance.

But has rarely looked this fresh, revitalised and refined in front of goal And maybe he never wanted it this badly. He is style and substance these days. And on his day he is a nightmare for defenders to face. If Chelsea defend like in Leeds or Zagreb they may be in for a tormenting afternoon. Neymar is on his way to proving Al Khelaifi and Galthier wrong. Mbappe reportedly wanted his ex-friend out of the club amid a rift behind the scenes. That was one of the conditions to be met before the former AS Monaco star would commit to a three-year renewal. But Neymar, despite being linked with Chelsea, stayed put and the slate has been wiped clean. The pair may never be friends again like before but the telepathic understanding on the pitch appears to be back. And with Messi obviously in decline (despite his telegraphed pass for the Brazilian) Neymar is PSG’s best chance together with Mbappe to end a 12-year Qatari wait for the coveted Champions League.


No shots from outside


Against Brest the hosts barely tried their luck from distance. Most of their shots on goal came from inside the box. Runs in behind, intricate passing and crosses at the near-post look to be the preferred options to punish the opposition. But with such talent to call upon, why not having a go from time to time? Hugo Lloris, Edouard Mendy and Kepa Arrizabalaga have a record of being caught out by long-distance attempts.


Useless running


One of the criticisms to be levelled at PSG is that they run around way too much for the amount of possession that they have. It's the ball that should be on the run more than the players themselves. And keeping Brest in the game until the last second of injury-time is a luxury they can't afford against Chelsea or Spurs. Another team instead of Brest boasting a better striker would have made PSG pay.

Hence, killing off the game is paramount. And Chelsea know a thing or two about shipping a last-gasp goal in a recent North London derby.


Slimani didn’t watch Euro 2020 final


Donnarumma spoiled the England party at Wembley on the 11th of June when he sensationally claimed two penalties from Sancho and Arsenal's Saka. But one can only wonder whether Slimani watched that game. The former AC Milan keeper has a decent record of saving penalties on his left side. Did the Leicester flop not do his homework? When the Algerian stepped up, Donnarumma's one-handed save did the jon in superb Thomas Ravelli USA 1994 style. The Italian appears to have found his confidence again after a troubled first season in France in which he reluctantly shared his game time with Keylor Navas and dearly cost his team against Real Madrid in the Champions League in March. The illness and subsequent death of Mino Raiola, his agent, didn't help to stay positive amid backlash from the AC Milan fans following his acrimonious departure. But barring some hesitancies from corners and set-pieces he increasingly looks like the wonder boy who stunned Italian football half-a-decade ago. And with Mendy, who was dropped for Lepa in the Champions League opener last week,  who has the one and other mistake in him these days, Donnarumma looks to be ahead of his counterpart in terms of decisive and form. Talent anyway. Gigio has never played at Stamford Bridge and the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But if things change in the next months,  similar results as at Wembley 14 months ago can be expected. And that doesn't bode well for London clubs.


PARC DES PRINCES, PARIS

Paris Saint-Germain

Donnarumma- Ramos-Pereira- Kimpembe- Hakimi- Vitinha-Verratti-Bernat-Messi-Mbappe-Neymar


Stade Brest

Bizot-Brassier-Herelle-Chardonnet-Duveme-Fadiga- Belkebla-Lees Melou-Camara- Honorat-Slimani



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