Written by Chris Winterburn
Paris Saint-Germain dispelled the belief that the perceived lack of competition in Ligue 1 would hinder their chances in the Champions League with a 3-1 victory over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at the Parc des Princes this evening, despite giving up a one goal lead inside the first half.
Much was made of the attacking qualities in the French Champions’ locker before the kick-off and it was no surprise when the hosts went one goal to the good inside three minutes after a very positive start on the front foot. Chelsea were caught cold by the pace of the Parisians’ attack and Ezequiel Lavezzi slammed the ball past Petr Cech when the ball finally fell into a shooting position after impressive work on the flank by Blaise Matuidi.
Jose Mourinho’s decision to play Andre Schurrle as a lone forward cum attacking midfielder this evening was pondered by the media prior to kick-off as possibly a message to owner Roman Abramovich with regards to the purchase of a striker in the summer, however it must be said that the German winger by trade put in a commendable shift. Schurrle consistently harried the defensive pairing of Alex and Thiago Silva and then had the energy to put Marco Verratti under pressure when the ball was moved onto the Italian.
Paris Saint-Germain seemed to have stunned themselves such was the early timing of their opening goal with Laurent Blanc’s side unsure whether or not to pile forward and try and take further advantage of Chelsea’s sluggish start. The home side did in fact show a hint of indecisiveness and elected to sit back on their one goal lead and it allowed Chelsea to compose themselves and gain a foothold in the contest. It was the sort of faux mercy that Europe’s elite tend not to show after taking a lead and that is something Paris Saint-Germain will have to learn from should they progress to the semi-final stage.
Chelsea’s equaliser came through a rare Thiago Silva mistake, the Brazilian defender seemed to get the timing of his challenge ever so slightly off and Oscar was felled by a trailing leg. Eden Hazard comfortably stepped up to wrong foot Salvatore Sirigu with his penalty finding the bottom right hand corner of the net.
Marco Verratti will come in for criticism tonight as the Italian gave the ball away a few times too many however the former Pescara midfielder was crucial to PSG’s ball retention throughout the match. Seldom did you see the French champions play an aerial ball from their own penalty area, the hosts much rather preferred to play the ball out from Sirigu and Verratti was often the recipient. As Marouane Fellaini found last night in a similar position, against a team who presses high up the pitch at pace it is a thankless task receiving the ball from the goalkeeper as you have to turn, often be faced with two or more men and try and slide an inch perfect pass through a miniscule opening.
Verratti did manage to retain possession more than people realise as well as running himself into the ground to create an opening for others to pass into. It was a rather sacrificial performance with Verratti giving up potential rave reviews for his own performance for the good of the team.
The match had slipped into a lull after the break with neither team looking particularly threatening going forward, Chelsea happy with their away goal and PSG rather puzzled with regards to how to regain their earlier tempo. PSG were given a significant helping hand by David Luiz just after the hour when the Brazilian gave away a sloppy free-kick wide on the left hand side in a position where PSG were looking unlikely to develop the move. The man of the match Lavezzi went on to deliver an almost perfect delivery into the gap between the goalkeeper and the line of defenders with David Luiz putting the ball into his own net.
An injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic not long after saw the introduction of Lucas Moura. The direct running of the former Sao Paulo starlet caused Chelsea real problems and Moura’s positivity proved to be infectious to the rest of the team.
Chelsea had lost their momentum courtesy of both the goal and the introduction of Fernando Torres in place of the hard working, if isolated, Andre Schurrle and PSG took full advantage of the newfound room in midfield, Thiago Motta orchestrated the tempo without so much as a second glace from Chelsea’s forward line. It seemed only a matter of time before another PSG goal came.
In truth it looked as if both teams had settled for the result as it stood heading into injury time, until €42million substitute Javier Pastore received the ball in the right hand corner of Chelsea’s half. The Argentinean playmaker seemed to flick a switch and turn on the style out of the blue with his nimble feet seeing him beat three Chelsea defenders before powering the ball past Petr Cech at his near post to send the Parc des Princes into an ecstatic frenzy just seconds before the full-time whistle.
Jose Mourinho was unsurprisingly disappointed with his team after conceding a late goal labelling the manner in Chelsea allowed Pastore to score as “ridiculous.” Mourinho continued on what appeared to be the words of a frustrated man by suggesting it would be “difficult” to overcome the 3-1 deficit with Chelsea “not a team full of talent to score a lot of goals.”
On the topic of PSG, Laurent Blanc’s men showed that they were far more than wealthy pretenders this evening with the widespread quality in the side showing them to be a class above Chelsea, despite a difficult period following the equalising goal. Thiago Silva was a rock at the back with the captain’s reading of the game cutting short Chelsea attacks before they had even had chance to develop, giving away the penalty was the only blotch on his copybook.
There are worries for Laurent Blanc ahead of Tuesday’s return leg at Stamford Bridge with Marco Verratti and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both being substituted through injury with Ibrahimovic appearing to have pulled a hamstring which will almost certainly see him miss the trip to London. Lucas Moura’s twenty minute cameo did however show that there are options from the bench to replace Ibrahimovic without too much of a decrease in production.
With the heavyweights in the competition all in a good position to progress to the semi-final you have to feel that PSG showed tonight that they have a good mentality as well as individual quality on the pitch. A year ago we saw a team which perhaps wasn’t ready for the pressures that come with latter stage Champions League football however this year they have taken that next step. Despite a set-back following their early opening goal the French side remained largely positive in the second half and with this added to their obvious footballing qualities, it is easy to see them being more than a match for any of the side’s left in the competition.
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
Just two weeks have passed since Paris Saint Germain completed the mammoth double €62 million signing of both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from Italian giants AC Milan, and in that time frame there has been multiple reports and rumours about just where the Rossoneri are going to turn next with Dimitar Berbatov and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa muted as potential direct replacements for Zlatan and Thiago Silva respectively. AC Milan being undoubtedly one of the most renowned clubs in all of European football are always going to be linked with players who appear to be available for transfer however in the Milanese giant’s current financial state it is very difficult to look at any rumour involving Milan without a certain degree of scepticism. The talk of Dimitar Berbatov and Yanga-Mbiwa however seem to be both extremely sensible and significantly likely signings with the Bulgarian centre forward available for transfer away from Manchester United with just under a year left on his contract at Old Trafford, and Yanga-Mbiwa having proved himself in the last two seasons, in particular last year where he played a huge part in Montpellier’s French title triumph being available at not such a high price due to the African born Frenchman entering the final year of his contract at Stade de la Mosson. What followed the rumours regarding Berbatov and Yanga-Mbiwa was in a way both surprising and unsurprising, it was the rumours of a potential return to the San Siro for the iconic AC Milan legend Kaka whom had been told his future was uncertain with the Spanish Champions. Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho fuelled the fire for more speculation just last week when he announced “I don’t know if he [Kaka] will stay or not” this then forced AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi’s hand with the former Italian Prime Minister stating that ” Kaka would be welcome back at AC Milan.”
It is always the case with any transfer involving a “blockbuster” player that the old adage “he may one day return” gets broadcast, as with Cristiano Ronaldo when he left Manchester United for Real Madrid and indeed Kaka himself when he made the second most expensive ever transfer to Real Madrid from Milan. As much as fans wish to believe that their hero will one day return in actual fact it happens much less frequently than you would think with the saying essentially being used to cushion the blow of losing a top player for the fans, however in this case it seems that Kaka may well return to the club where he established himself as the best player in the world. Kaka has never truly settled in at the Bernabeu like he did in Milan and many have attributed a mixture of injuries and poor fitness as the reason for this although others would point out Mourinho’s signings of fellow attack minded midfielders Ozil and Di Maria havent exactly made it straightforward for Kaka to earn a place in the Real Madrid starting line up on a consistent basis. Kaka now aged thirty is certainly still a player of immense individual talent who if given a consistent run of games at Madrid would undoubtedly produce displays replicating his days at Milan however with the possibility of Kaka being Madrid’s first choice playmaker next season looking highly unlikely especially with Madrid’s apparent significant interest in Tottenham Hotspur’s Luka Modric and to a lesser extent Benfica’s Axel Witsel, it may well be the case that in order to prolong his footballing career and possibly even earn a place in Brazil’s 2014 World Cup squad Kaka has to move on.
A return to AC Milan would no doubt give Kaka a boost when he most needs it, the former Ballon d’Or winner has found life in Madrid extremely difficult and despite having a much better season last term contributing five assists in Real Madrid’s route to the European cup semi final it still appears that Kaka is a shadow of his former self both on and off the pitch. Let us not kid ourselves Kaka was never the most media hungry player whilst at Milan with the former Sao Paulo midfielder often preferring to shy away from the cameras when possible, however he always looked happy in red and black of Milan, he always appeared to be enjoying his football and why wouldn’t he with everything seemingly going his way? However the iconic smile of the deeply religious Kaka has not been a common entity in the three seasons he has spent in the Spanish capital. Despite the obvious positivity that would go with a return to Milan for Kaka there is a question over whether there would be the same “footballing benefits” for AC Milan themselves.
AC Milan despite having lost arguably their two best players in the forms of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva do not have a huge need for an attacking midfielder such as Kaka, if anything they have been trying to cut their midfield down which has been made evidently clear with the decision to release the experienced Clarence Seedorf following a decade long spell with AC Milan. AC Milan have also moved to strengthen their midfield with the free transfer signing of Riccardo Montolivo from Serie A rivals Fiorentina which leaves Massimiliano Allegri with a vast number of midfielders to choose from including Montolivo, Nocerino, Robinho, Kevin Prince Boateng, Muntari, Ambrosini, Mathieu Flamini, Urby Emanuelson and the newly signed midfield duo of Bakaye Traore and Kevin Constant. It is difficult to find a way in which Kaka will fit into the Milan side with Kevin Prince Boateng and Robinho being the usual candidates to fill the Central Attacking Midfield role, however with Ibrahimovic now gone it may well be the case that Robinho plays as a forward next season which arguably leaves a gap in the central attacking midfield position if Boateng is required to play in a deeper role. Kaka could well fill this gap however with Nocerino and Montolivo who can both perform competently in that position it is once again difficult for me to see just how Kaka could command a consistent spot in the Milanese starting line up, and if he cannot be guaranteed playing time then there is little point of him leaving the Bernabeu. Following brilliant campaigns for both Kevin Prince Boateng and Robinho last year with both displaying their ability on the continental stage with their noticeable performances against holders Barcelona and Arsenal it is difficult to suggest that Kaka would be more deserving of a starting spot ahead of those two players in the AC Milan first team, with Kaka having not been at his absolute best for a number of seasons whilst Boateng and Robinho have gone from strength to strength. The signing of Kaka may not represent the best interest for Milan on the football pitch itself but in comparison off the field it would improve the mood in the city surrounding the club substantially.
There is a sense of furore among the supporters of AC Milan this summer as a direct result of the sales of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, this has illustrated itself in the poorest ever season ticket sales since Berlusconi took ownership of the club way back in 1986. The worry this caused within the AC Milan hierarchy was significant with club C.E.O Adriano Galliani even addressing the fans to try and calm them down stating “AC Milan will sign a champion this summer” How much of this was simply bravado to appease fans we are still unsure, as we will be until the transfer occurs or when the transfer window shuts on the 31st August. The signing of club legend Kaka however would be a masterstroke from Galliani should the deal be completed, not only would he have fulfilled his promise of signing a champion which would restore the fans confidence in both the team and the board of directors but it would also appease the fans whom are angry that Milan are moving backwards by selling their best players, the signing of Kaka in a way would still prove to supporters that the Rossoneri have the capability to attract the world’s best talent at a time when it appears that they can no longer do so. Season ticket sales would also improve at Milan should Kaka be signed up with fans clamouring to get a glimpse of their hero once again, the media frenzy that this signing would cause would also sway fans into the thinking that despite the sale of Zlatan and Thiago, Milan could still well challenge both in Europe and on all domestic fronts next season which would improve the season ticket sales statistics. Finally at a time when Milan have admitted themselves they are struggling to compete financially hence the sales of their two key players, the fact that the deal for Kaka in itself would not be one of huge expense is hugely important with Madrid unlikely to command a huge transfer fee and the player himself would more than likely not request the same wages he is on currently at Madrid. Failing this the deal may well even prove to be a loan with Madrid looking to free up squad space for a season and Milan looking to appease frustrated fans it could well be a win win scenario for all parties involved despite the suggestion that Jose Mourinho would not be in favour of a loan move for his Brazilian playmaker. Should a loan deal be agreed it is rumoured that AC Milan are only in a position to pay half of Kaka’s current salary with Madrid continuing to pay the other fifty percent until the end of the 2012-2013 season when a low fee buyout clause would be involved should Milan wish to make the move for Kaka permanent.
Whilst there is absolutely no arguments about Kaka’s ability as a footballer whom on his day could still walk into most sides in Europe, there is still a case to answer as to whether he can reach the high standards of performance which he has set for himself with fitness and lack of confidence still being key issues that raise doubt. A return to Milan would boost his confidence noticeable but the question marks over his fitness and recent performances lead me to believe that he would not be a first choice player at Milan and if he was it could well be a potentially disastrous move from Allegri with the possibility of alienating either Kevin Prince Boateng or Robinho being quite likely. Despite the obvious problems that the signing of Kaka would cause for Allegri whom until now has kept relatively quiet on the subject which suggests a great deal about his involvement in any potential deal, there is still the huge matter of off the field positivity that this transfer would cause for AC Milan, it would get them out of a difficult position they have put themselves in following the somewhat forced sales of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva with fans excited at the prospect of the prodigal son Kaka returning to the San Siro and with the potential to increase the as yet disappointing ticket sales by the signing of Kaka it would be a hugely sensible move for Milan off the pitch. Whether or not it is the best move for footballing reasons however we will have to wait and see.
Written by Chris Winterburn