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After more years in Paris than he cares to remember, Chris Burke has picked up a thing or deux from the frontlines of French football.
Chris Burke
Chris Burke

Paris rise mirrors Chelsea's

How good are Paris Saint-Germain? A timely question, and one our man in the French capital, Chris Burke, answers with reference to opponents Chelsea FC.
Published: Monday 31 March 2014, 10.31CET

Paris rise mirrors Chelsea's

How good are Paris Saint-Germain? A timely question, and one our man in the French capital, Chris Burke, answers with reference to opponents Chelsea FC.

How times have changed. When Paris Saint-Germain last hosted Chelsea FC, it was the visitors who were the upstarts of European football – nouveau riche go-getters looking to storm the castle gates of the continent's aristocracy.

Over €100m had been spent at Stamford Bridge in summer 2004 as the Blues began their second year under Roman Abramovich, and new manager José Mourinho marked his UEFA Champions League return – fresh from lifting the trophy with FC Porto – by taking his expensively assembled squad to the Parc des Princes that September.

What followed was "a wake-up call" according to then Paris coach Vahid Halilhodžić, with the hosts blown away 3-0 by the new football superpower in their midst. Never the most radiant figure, Halilhodžić looked visibly crushed by the experience in his press conference afterwards. Hoping the likes of Charles-Édouard Coridon and Bartholomew Ogbeche might upset the odds could apparently have that effect.

The worm may not have turned exactly, but while Chelsea have more or less joined the establishment, Paris are the club now giddy with excitement at their newfound standing. This is their second season in the UEFA Champions League since coming under Qatari ownership in 2011 and, like Chelsea ten years ago, they are desperate to reach the apex of the European game – but also like Chelsea at the start of the Abramovich era, it is hard to get a handle on them.

©Getty Images

Paris midfielder Yohan Cabaye

Just how good are Paris exactly? They have undoubtedly hit some astonishing heights in the competition this term, with ten-goal talisman Zlatan Ibrahimović starring in the 5-0 group stage victory at RSC Anderlecht and the 4-0 win away to Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the round of 16. On the other hand, they also drew 1-1 at home with the Belgian outfit and just about scraped a 2-1 triumph over ten-man Leverkusen at the Parc des Princes. Domestic form provides no definitive clues either, as Laurent Blanc's charges are so comfortably superior to their Ligue 1 rivals.

Chelsea will therefore provide Paris with their first true examination this campaign, and Mourinho will have noted how the likes of Anderlecht, Leverkusen and, to an extent, Olympiacos FC were all able to limit the French hopefuls' attacking verve in their own backyard. A proven master at blunting the game's more expansive lineups, while still finding solutions at the other end, the Portuguese tactician will pose the kind of challenge Les Rouge et Bleu must perversely wish they could encounter more often.

No one doubts their capacity to enthral when the stars align, yet what Paris lack is experience of the battle-hardening tests that have sharpened most of the teams still left in the field. Blanc himself will be under fiercer scrutiny than ever before as well, with his greatest achievement as a coach leading FC Girondins de Bordeaux to the French title in 2008/09. If Mourinho is seen to win the strategic battle on Wednesday, many will recall that the 1998 FIFA World Cup winner was far from first choice to take over last summer.

Despite undeniably excellent results, Blanc has so far delivered just the bare minimum expected of him by the club, steering them to the top of Ligue 1, the French League Cup final and the same stage of the UEFA Champions League they reached last year. No one should forget that it took Chelsea until 2012 to finally realise their European dream, but Paris president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has no intention of waiting that long – and if his side come unstuck against the first major obstacle in their path, it will feel as if they have made scant progress towards their primary goal. It is now that the real judgements can and will be made.

The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.


Last updated: 03/04/14 16.24CET