The second round of Champions League group games sees Paris Saint-Germain host Barcelona at the Parc des Princes amidst a mini-crisis.
Despite remaining unbeaten this season, and Laurent Blanc presiding over just six losses in his 60 games, French media are sharpening their pencils for what they believe is an expected managerial departure. Four draws and three wins from their first six games in all competitions is evidently not enough to keep the club hierarchy happy.
Throw the poor form of talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic into the mix and you’d think the sky had fallen in over in the French capital. The last thing the Ligue1 side need right now is to be facing a re-energised Barca, themselves unbeaten, and playing some of their best football for years, the performance in Malaga aside.
Luis Enrique has worked absolute wonders with his playing staff, setting down a marker from his first day in the job. The “deadwood” that drained the club coffers for years have been loaned or sold, and Lucho is doing an exceptional job of keeping everyone else on their toes and fighting for their place.
When was the last time Gerard Pique was dropped for example? The result: a man of the match performance upon his return. Something that Pique himself will admit has been a long time coming and another job done for the manager.
Enrique’s modus operandi is already harking back to the glory days of Pep Guardiola. Simple etiquette such as everyone eating together at meal times; fines for lateness or lack of concentration; a constant demand for the very best work at all times; training the way you play, at full tilt and with no quarter asked or given.
Regimental? Certainly. A recipe for success? Definitely.
The Blaugrana will arrive in the French capital full of the confidence associated with not conceding a goal in the first six weeks of the season, and to that end PSG have their work cut out. Their cause won’t be helped by in-fighting which threatens to derail any hopes that Blanc has for immediate and more long-term success.
Jeremy Menez who recently departed the club, hinted at the divisions in an interview with French Football: “Me, I am French and a Parisian. I don’t have Twitter or Instagram where I can send messages or pretty photos. I do not make films for social networks. I do not say: “Long live Paris! Long live Paris!” in order to make myself liked. I am not like that.”
Certainly Zlatan Ibrahimovic could never be accused of being anything but professional and he always has a point to prove against old employers. The Catalans especially are a real thorn in the Swede’s side. His time in Spain is possibly the only black mark on an otherwise exemplary body of work.
There’s no doubt he will want to go one better than the two draws between the sides the last time they met at the quarter-final stage of this competition in 2013.
In Paris, Zlatan was instrumental in everything PSG did right, and only a Messi-inspired Barca in Camp Nou second-leg saw them squeak through on away goals.
The diminutive Argentine has already hit the ground running this season, and in a slightly deeper-lying role than what PSG will be used to. That’s likely to cause problems for the PSG back line who won’t want to allow Messi space between the lines but would be equally loathed to move too far outside of their comfort zone at the back.
Think that by stopping Messi PSG will stop Barcelona from bringing home the bacon? Think again.
In Ivan Rakitic particularly, Barca have one of the buys of the summer. Dynamic and hard-working, his transitional play from front to back and a high level of defensive support work has been one of the chief reasons why Barca have started the season so well.
In truth, this is a European football heavyweight battle par excellence with quality throughout both sides that is self-evident.
We’re in for a cracker.