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May 19, 2014

PSG: End of season review

Zlatan Ibrahimovic enjoyed another stellar Ligue 1 campaign with 26 goals scored.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic enjoyed another stellar Ligue 1 campaign with 26 goals scored.
Saturday's 4-0 home win over Montpellier HSC brought the 2013-14 season to an end for Paris Saint-Germain and what a campaign it has been for the French champions. Facing the challenge of beating former coach Carlo Ancelotti's achievements of the Ligue 1 title and a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal appearance during the 2012-13 campaign, PSG have done more than that this term under the leadership of current manager Laurent Blanc.

This season has seen many records broken by Les Parisiens, and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has rightly called it "the best in the club's history." Yet there is a sense that it could have been so much better, with a second consecutive last eight exit in Europe and a surprise round of 32 defeat in the Coupe de France killing PSG's chances of an unprecedented quadruple and taking away somewhat from a number of impressive achievements.

Despite that continental disappointment and the poor showing in the French Cup, the capital club performed exactly as they were expected to at the start of the season and Blanc has delivered everything that was asked of him. A second consecutive Ligue 1 crown -- the fourth in PSG's history and a first-ever successful title defence -- was added to with the first domestic cup of Qatar Sports Investments' (QSI) time in charge of the club, the Coupe de la Ligue.

At the start of the season, the expectation from many was for Blanc to retain the French title, win one or both of the two domestic cups, reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League or better and improve the team's style of play. Le President has done all of those things and is fully deserving of his recent contract extension, despite the disappointment that followed PSG's European exit to Chelsea after having led 3-1 from the first leg.

In short, it has been an almost perfect season for the French giants.

Star Pupil

Not only has this season arguably been the best in PSG's 43-year history, it has also been the greatest of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's career. No player has been more influential for Les Parisiens across all competitions and without the Swede, much of this term's success might not have even been possible.

Despite a slow start to the campaign -- not scoring his first league goal until week four in a 2-0 home win over EA Guingamp -- the 32-year-old went on to enjoy his most productive season to date, destroying a number of club and league record as well as sweeping a number of awards. Ibrahimovic finished the domestic term with 26 Ligue 1 goals -- 10 clear of a handful of rivals including PSG teammate Edinson Cavani -- as well as 11 assists, a total only second to AS Monaco's James Rodriguez.

However, Ibrahimovic excelled in Europe with 10 goals and added a further five in the domestic cups to finish with a total of 41 in all competitions. By mid-March he had already beaten Carlos Bianchi's club record of 39 goals in a single season that had stood since 1977-78 and he smashed another of the Argentine's benchmarks with his goal against Montpellier on Saturday, becoming the first player to score more than 25 goals in consecutive seasons since Bianchi did so in 1977-78 (37) and 1978-79 (27).

Ibrahimovic's exploits saw him successfully defend his Player of the Year title, while also taking home the Goal of the Year gong at the National Union of Professional Footballers' (UNFP) end-of-season gala. He was also named in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year for a second consecutive season.

However, while there was only ever one candidate for this award, a special mention must also be made for midfielder Thiago Motta who has arguably been the unexpected revelation of the season.

The Italian international has enjoyed a rare injury-free campaign and his sensational performances in midfield were one of the main reasons why Blanc was able to switch to a 4-3-3 early in the season. Motta has been integral to PSG's attractive possession-based style of football and, playing in a deep-lying role behind Blaise Matuidi and compatriot Marco Verratti, the 31-year-old has emerged as one of the best midfielders in the game at present.

Detention

While a number of players have failed to live up to their reputations -- particularly their over-inflated price tags -- Jeremy Menez has been the biggest disappointment of the season. Admittedly, the campaign did not start well for the French international, having to undergo surgery that meant missing the first five games of the season, and the capricious 27-year-old seemingly wilted under the pressure created by greater competition for places and has essentially been a fringe player since December.

Menez laso had competition form Javier Pastore -- who continues to confound supporters and journalists alike with his erratic form -- but at least the enigmatic Argentine showed in the final few weeks of the season that he is capable of raising his game. The Frenchman, unfortunately, did not show enough over the course of the season to merit a place in Blanc's plans.

It was a sad end to the PSG career of the man who scored last season's title-clinching goal in a 1-0 win at Olympique Lyonnais. The Parc des Princes boo boys who have hounded him while in the French capital even took to jeering him during Saturday's medal ceremony. Menez's contract expires next month and he is expected to return to Italy.

Teacher's Notes

Blanc has enjoyed an impressive debut season in charge of this PSG side and the Frenchman has proven a number of critics wrong. Viewed as nothing more than a temporary solution when he was appointed last summer, the 48-year-old has been a major success and president Al-Khelaifi has rewarded that sparkling performance with a new contract.

Since taking over at the Parc des Princes, Blanc has totally changed the team's style of play. Gone is Ancelotti's counter-attacking approach that was designed to win at all costs -- often by a narrow margin -- and PSG are now playing entertaining and aesthetically pleasing football that has earned comparisons with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Question marks remain over Blanc's tactical nous and flexibility after he showed his inexperience in Les Parisiens' Champions League quarterfinal second leg defeat at Chelsea, but his overall performance this season has eclipsed that of his Italian predecessor. The Frenchman deserves a chance to better this campaign's showing next term, but he has set the bar extremely high for himself with progress once again expected in Europe and in the Coupe de France.

Final Grade: A-

Overall, it has been a brilliant season for PSG and the capital club have deserved their success in Ligue 1 and the Coupe de la Ligue. Taking into account the Trophee des Champions as well, that is three pieces of silverware that Les Parisiens have won this campaign, compared to last term's solitary league title -- albeit the club's first in 19 years.

The French champions now have four Championnat titles to their name and, although they are still some way short of AS Saint-Etienne's total of 10, they are starting to dominate French football as was expected when QSI arrived in 2011.

Next season Blanc will be expected to repeat PSG's Ligue 1 title defence and will also need to win one or both domestic cups and do better than a round of 32 finish in the Coupe de France. However, Europe remains the ultimate goal and -- despite recent UEFA financial fair play sanctions -- the capital club will be expected to go one better next season and at least reach the semifinals.