PSG to benefit from early tests
Paris Saint-Germain were drawn in Group F of this season's UEFA Champions League alongside Barcelona, Ajax and APOEL. The group has more than a hint of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in its flavour, with two of the three teams in the group listed among the Swede's former clubs. More importantly, however, the draw finally hands the French champions the early test they have needed for the past two seasons in the competition.
In the 2012-13 edition, PSG were handed a favourable draw in a group populated by FC Porto, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb. Last season, they were dealt SL Benfica, Olympiacos and RSC Anderlecht, and both times the capital club topped the group. The first time around, it was a good thing; eight years away from top continental competition, les Parisiens needed to be eased back into Europe's top tournament. But that was less the case last season.
Champions League group stage
A: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Olympiakos, Malmo
B: Real Madrid, Basel, Liverpool, Ludogorets
C: Benfica, Zenit, Leverkusen, Monaco
D: Arsenal, Dortmund, Galatasaray, Anderlecht
E: Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Man City, Roma
F: Barcelona, PSG, Ajax, APOEL
G: Chelsea, Schalke, Sporting, Maribor
H: Porto, Shakhtar, Athletic Bilbao, BATE
A thumping 6-1 aggregate victory over a listless Bayer Leverkusen side did Laurent Blanc's men no real favours ahead of the quarterfinal clash with Premier League outfit Chelsea, and the need for a sterner examination earlier in the tournament was recognised clearly after the French giant's collapse at Stamford Bridge in the second leg. This time, there will be no excuse that PSG were not faced with top quality opponents from the off, as the capital club could not have wished for better rivals in Group F.
Barcelona will provide the toughest test for PSG in the group, and, if they want to progress to the latter stages, then they will need to beat the Catalans and at least hold them to a draw in Paris to stand any chance of advancing in first place. Considering that the pair have met recently, in the 2012-13 quarterfinals, PSG will not feel as intimidated by Luis Enrique's men, and that should give them a better chance of taking points off of them home and away. It will still be a difficult task, though.
One small plus point will be the fact that new Barca signing Luis Suarez will not be available for the first meeting between the two sides because of his ban for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini during the FIFA World Cup. However, coming up against the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Andres Iniesta will be just as testing for the French capital outfit.
Like Barcelona, Ajax have plenty of experience at this level, which will help to balance out the fact that Frank de Boer's team is so young. However, despite their youth, the Amsterdam side should be given full respect because of the quality of players they raise in their own youth academy. The Dutch champions are a dangerous side to face because -- as they showed in both games against Manchester City last season -- they are capable of overcoming well-funded sides with their playing style and team chemistry. A poor result home or away against Ajax could be the difference between PSG progressing from the group or not.
As for APOEL, they are the minnows of the group. The Cypriots are well known in France after beating Olympique Lyonnais in the 2011-12 edition of the Champions League to reach the quarterfinals, but they lack the necessary quality to really trouble Barca, PSG or even Ajax. APOEL's best hope is to take points off of these sides when they travel to Nicosia, but even then, all three will still fancy their chances of taking maximum points from both games against Giorgos Donis' men.
Overall, PSG can be satisfied with their group. It could have been easier, but Blanc's men might well have paid the price in the latter stages if it had not been challenging at all. This way, in a group with two good teams with European pedigree, it forces les Parisiens to raise their game earlier in the competition. With PSG expected to at least reach the semifinals this season, the French giants will be keen to prove they belong with the favourites by forcing Barcelona into second place.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.