Failure not an option for PSG in Champions League visit to Chelsea
Paris Saint-Germain will take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday, and the runaway Ligue 1 leaders hold a 2-1 advantage from the first meeting.
There is a lot riding on the clash with Guus Hiddink's men in London, both for Laurent Blanc and his players. If they win -- or simply go through at the Blues' expense -- the French champions will advance to a fourth consecutive quarterfinal.
However, reaching the last eight has always been one of Qatar Sports Investments' minimum requirements since the start of the season, and getting there will not be viewed as a major achievement in reality.
Lose, though, and the complexion of this campaign will change entirely for PSG. Exiting the Champions League before the quarterfinals -- arguably even the semifinals -- will be viewed as a failure by the capital club's leadership.
Essentially, Les Parisiens' entire season will be in play against Chelsea. If the English champions eliminate PSG from the competition at this early stage, then no amount of domestic success -- PSG have already won the Trophee des Champions and can still win Ligue 1, the Coupe de la Ligue and the Coupe de France -- will be of consolation to their ambitious Qatari owners.
The five-time French champions worked toward this two-legged affair for months between the end of the group stage and the resumption of Champions League action after the winter break. Their current 23-point lead at the top of Le Championnat is the result of the team stamping out all complacency in their game and working hard to open up as big an advantage as possible so that they can fully concentrate on their Champions League commitments.
In recent weeks, it has become even more obvious exactly how much emphasis has been placed on reaching the quarterfinals. Goalless draws against both Lille OSC and Montpellier HSC have preceded both legs of the Chelsea clash, while Blanc has regularly fielded a heavily rotated side in both domestic cups. The result has been poor performances, but key players have been kept fit in an effort to avoid previous mistakes.
Those stalemates will be deemed acceptable if PSG reach the last eight because they have been able to keep their players as fresh as possible. If they fail, though, then all of Blanc and his staff's hard work will have counted for nothing, and those results will be scrutinised once again.
Also reflecting the high stakes at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday is the fact that PSG have moved earth and heaven in order to be able to name Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi in their squad for the showdown.
The Italian and the Frenchman are key components in Blanc's preferred starting XI, and the prematch frenzy surrounding the pair's fitness reflects not only their value to the team, but also the importance of having the best players available for this specific encounter.
After knocking Chelsea out over two legs last term, the Ligue 1 giants are expected to progress by a clear margin this time around. The Blues' away goal from the first leg poses a significant threat to their chances.
Win and PSG will simply be doing what is expected of them. But lose, and suddenly there is much less to play for between now and the end of the season. For a start, Blanc's position as coach -- despite recently signing a contract extension until 2018 -- will be questioned and this campaign will be viewed as a failure.
Failure to advance past Chelsea on Wednesday is not an option for Le President and his players.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.