Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc knows his side’s awesome domestic form counts for nothing now as they prepare to face Chelsea in the Champions League for the third season running.
PSG are in the midst of a record-breaking run of 35 games unbeaten in France’s top flight and have not been beaten domestically since March last year.
Their only defeats in that time have come against Barcelona in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals and away to Real Madrid in this season’s group stage.
That shows they still have progress to make to become a genuine contender for European glory, and Blanc admits he will not be judged favourably if Paris fall to the Premier League side in the last 16.
“Coming into the season with PSG you know that your season will be judged on what you do in the Champions League,” Blanc said at a press conference at the Parc des Princes on the eve of the first leg against Chelsea.
With a touch of sarcasm, he added: “There’s hardly any point in even playing in the league because apparently you’ve won it before it has even begun.
“Here we are up against a club in the same category as PSG, if not even stronger.
“Chelsea have experience and have won the Champions League so, although we are better equipped now, we are also aware that we are coming up against a difficult team.
“Now we are boxing in a category that we don’t have in our domestic league,” added Blanc, whose side are a huge 24 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 from second-placed Monaco and destined to win a fourth straight French title.
The teams renew their rivalry with recent history suggesting there is very little between them — Chelsea triumphed on away goals in the quarter-finals in 2014 but PSG took revenge as they won in the same fashion in the last 16 a year ago.
When December’s draw, with a sense of inevitability, paired the sides together again, PSG appeared the undisputed favourites.
– Steady recovery –
That was as much down to Chelsea’s travails as PSG’s form, but just three days later Jose Mourinho was sacked and the London club have since begun a steady recovery under Guus Hiddink.
They remain in the bottom half of the Premier League but they have gone 12 games unbeaten, including a 5-1 thumping of Newcastle United on Saturday as Diego Costa scored his eighth goal in that time.
“Now we have more confidence to go there and to play. Paris have a great team, great players, but we go there to try to win the game,” Brazilian star Willian told Chelsea TV.
Of his veteran counterpart Hiddink, Blanc said: “He has brought a lot of serenity to the club and I think their form shows the players have rediscovered a bit of calm.”
“For Chelsea the Champions League will be a way for them to save their season,” added midfielder Marco Verratti, who on Monday extended his contract with PSG through to 2020.
“We know this will be a very difficult match because Chelsea still have great players. There is no favourite.”
Both managers have selection issues, and Chelsea will be without captain John Terry, who came off injured against Newcastle.
He trained on Monday but did not board the plane to Paris, with Chelsea confirming that he had “not travelled due to a minor problem with his hamstring and ligament.”
With Kurt Zouma out for the season with a knee injury, Hiddink will have to reorganise his back line.
PSG’s preparations have been overshadowed after defender Serge Aurier was suspended by the club for insulting Blanc and several team-mates in a video posted on social media.
Aurier’s absence will mean either Gregory van der Wiel or Marquinhos starts at right-back, while Verratti, who has had a groin problem, could start for the first time in a month even if Blanc insists he cannot last 90 minutes.
“Of course we are perturbed by what happened, but I have almost my whole squad available — one has taken himself out of consideration. Too bad for him,” said Blanc.