Ligue 1 Preview: Paris Saint-Germain
Lessons from last season
Last season was one of the greatest in Paris Saint-Germain's history and certainly their best so far under the ownership of Qatar Sports Investments (QSI). The French capital outfit managed to win a second straight Ligue 1 title -- their fourth overall -- and a first-ever league and domestic cup double with their fourth Coupe de la Ligue trophy. PSG also set a handful of records, including the number of wins in a single French top-flight season (27) and a new points total (89).
However, it was not an entirely flawless campaign for the French juggernaut. Laurent Blanc's men fell short in Europe, throwing away a 3-1 first-leg lead over Chelsea in their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal tie to exit on away goals after a 2-0 second-leg defeat at Stamford Bridge. PSG's defeat exposed the need for a greater clinical edge, their relative lack of collective experience on that stage and insufficient overall squad depth needed to remain competitive on all fronts. A shock round of 32 exit at home to Montpellier HSC in the Coupe de France proved the same domestically.
Predicted starting lineup
A couple of things. Firstly, PSG have been majorly affected by FFP this summer and, as a consequence, the only two new arrivals at Parc des Princes have been David Luiz from Chelsea and Serge Aurier from Toulouse.
The Brazilian arrived from Chelsea early in the summer for the astonishing fee of almost 50 million pounds, and it is that foolhardy move that has put the French giants in such a difficult position with regard to FPP regulations. Aurier, though, arrives on loan with an obligation buy -- one of the innovative ways PSG have found to sidestep UEFA on this issue -- and the Ivory Coast FIFA World Cup star upgrades Blanc's options at right-back.
Both Clement Chantome and Jean-Christophe Bahebeck have returned after loan spells elsewhere in Ligue 1 and could play squad roles this season. In terms of departures, PSG have shipped out Jeremy Menez and cumbersome Brazilian central defender Alex to AC Milan, and former captain Christophe Jallet has joined Olympique Lyonnais. Kalifa Traore has switched to Ligue 2 side Angers SCO, while Kingsley Coman signed his first professional contract with Juventus and not PSG.
Many. For a start, PSG have Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Since arriving in Paris, the super Swede has been utterly unplayable and is absolutely vital to the way the team plays right now. Had the 32-year-old not been injured towards the end of last season -- something that kept him out of the crucial European second-leg defeat against Chelsea -- then perhaps Blanc's men could have gone on to become European champions. The biggest worry for PSG right now is what happens if or when Ibrahimovic gets injured again.
PSG's midfield is also an immense source of strength. Blanc's favoured three-man unit, comprised of Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi, is one of the best in Europe at present, while Yohan Cabaye, young prodigy Adrien Rabiot and youth academy graduate Chantome are not bad backup options. Luiz can also step out of defence into that area, while Blanc appears to think Javier Pastore can do a job there too.
Few, but there are some. However, PSG only truly looked vulnerable in the latter stages of the Champions League. It is debatable whether the French champions' back line is stronger this season following Luiz's arrival, but last term they were not tight enough at the back when it really mattered. Domestically, the defence was fine, but part of the problem in Europe was their lack of depth in the central positions. Injuries to Silva, Alex and veteran Zoumana Camara at various points, as well as Blanc's reluctance to recognise the ageing Alex's decline, meant they were never quite secure.
At the other end, PSG were sometimes not prolific enough. That is down, in part, to a lack of consistent creative thrust from midfield. Motta, Verratti and Matuidi retain the ball excellently and probe for chances, but they do not supply the sort of ammunition needed by the likes of Edinson Cavani and Ibrahimovic. A positive end to the Angel Di Maria transfer saga could see that weakness remedied. Permanently solving the Cavani-Ibrahimovic riddle would also help. However, it appears to be more of a question of sorting out the Uruguayan -- possibly by changing his position -- in order for the pair to rediscover their prolific form from the first half of 2013-14 season.
Laurent Blanc. His debut season on the PSG bench could not, realistically, have gone any better. Le President eclipsed predecessor Carlo Ancelotti's achievements from the season before and made a mockery of the Italian's struggles to get the side from the capital playing fluent, attractive and effective football.
Blanc's players were dominant in Ligue 1 -- finishing nine points clear of second-placed AS Monaco -- and they also matched Ancelotti's Champions League quarterfinal appearance, while adding a Coupe de la Ligue success. In Europe, PSG's disappointing quarterfinal second-leg capitulation to Chelsea did put Blanc under a lot of pressure, but overall he merited the new contract given to him by Les Parisiens at the end of last term.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic. What is there to say about the divisive striker that has not already been said before? Some love him, some despise him, but at PSG he is revered and completely untouchable. His form since arriving in the French capital backs that up too. Ibrahimovic is well on course to become one of -- if not the -- best player in Les Parisiens' history. Although last season's 26 goals and 11 assists in 33 Ligue 1 appearances might not look as good as the 30 goals and seven assists he managed the campaign before, the 32-year-old was in the form of his life. If PSG's No. 10 returns to that same level of performance and PSG succeed in landing Di Maria, the French giants will automatically became strong favourites to win the Champions League.
Predicted finish: First
PSG will be Ligue 1 champions again this season. It is difficult to see any other French side challenging them for the title, but the major question is whether they can win one or both of the domestic cups and the Champions League alongside it.
Winning Le Championnat will provide a fifth title in the club's history, but the appeal of European success is far greater for PSG's owners. A third consecutive Ligue 1 title defence is now a minimum expectation; they will also be obliged to bring home one or both of the domestic cups. The Coupe de France is arguably of greater importance than the Coupe de la Ligue this time because of last season's shock exit in the former.
However, progress in Europe is the biggest target of all, and Blanc needs to lead his players to at least the semifinals for this season to be judged a success.