There can be no denying that Paris Saint-Germain has the potential to play a big part in European football over the next decade – on the face of it everything is already in place.
They certainly have the big stadium, the experienced manager and moneybags owners needed to bridge the gap between European mediocrity and the elite clubs – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Juventus etc.
In recent seasons they have also purchased the superstar players needed – David Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore being just a few examples.
Les Parisiens are seven points clear at the top of Ligue 1 with just seven matches remaining, and boast both the best attack and best defence in the league.
But having seen their 2-0 victory over Rennes at the weekend, plus the full 90 minutes from their matches against Barcelona (a 2-2 draw) and Montpellier (a 1-0 win) recently, PSG do not yet give off the aura of an elite side.
The first goal against Rennes on Saturday was courtesy of an excellent solo effort from Jeremy Menez after 56 minutes – who was playing on the left of a 4-4-2 formation.
With Menez providing bursts of energy further up the pitch, the burden of creativity fell on the shoulders of young playmaker Marco Verratti, who had Clement Chantome to his right and the powerful running of Blaise Matuidi on his left.
However, Verratti was kept quiet and during half-time Beckham replaced the Italian midfielder, just as he had done against Montpellier off the bench. On Saturday Beckham created the second goal, dashing into the 18 yard box, received the ball and dinked it across the goalmouth for the Swede to score from close range.
Whenever Beckham has possession it is obvious that his first thought is always; ‘where’s Ibrahimovic?’ On numerous occasions again Rennes he picked up the ball and sprayed long looping diagonal passes in behind the defence, aimed at the head of Ibrahimovic.
In their last three matches this has been the only combination play that has really worked for PSG in an attacking sense. Against Montpellier and Rennes (Menez’s brilliance aside), the Paris outfit had lacked any creativity until the introduction of Beckham.
The Barcelona result was different in that they showed genuine determination to come back twice against the best side in Europe. Remember however, that Ibrahimovic was offside for the first goal and for the second, it was Valdes’ error that resulted in Matuidi scoring.
The Barcelona game was the first sign that PSG may be more than a group of individuals, but again at the weekend it looked as though that would be the exception and not the rule.
PSG normally operate in a 4-2-2-2 formation and when they do it feels as though they are two smaller sides, that share the same end goal. The front four are unwilling to defend, or even track back, creating the impression that PSG consists of a defensive unit of six players, and an attacking unit of four players, with little crossover between the two.
The only times defence and attack are linked is from either the runs of Matuidi in central midfield (similar to those of Ramires at Chelsea), or the occasional surge forward from either Christophe Jallet or Gregory Van der Wiel at right back.
With the likes of Thiago Silva, Lucas, Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi all out of the starting XI at the weekend, it was clear Ancelotti had more than half an eye on the second leg with Barcelona on his mind.
At the minute, PSG look like a side of eleven individuals, capable of grinding out results when needed, via a piece of individual brilliance from one of the many talented attackers in the side.
It is by no means a bad thing to have the ability to grind out results but if PSG want to be considered among Europe’s elite they need a much improved team spirit, and a more stylish approach with the ball. However, no one from Paris would bemoan the side if they managed to grind out another result at the Nou Camp this week.
Perhaps such a result, were it to happen, would see them move one step closer to joining the big boys of European football, but it will take more than one positive result in Barcelona and a likely Ligue 1 title for PSG to shake off their image as a team of individuals, with no collective style.