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PSG win in Athens, Marseille host Arsenal

Laurent Blanc's PSG side strolled to a convincing 4-1 win away to Olympiakos in Athens in their first Champions League group match on Tuesday. The action resumes on Wednesday when French club Marseille host the Premier League's Arsenal.

PSG win in Athens, Marseille host Arsenal
Thiago Motta celebrates after scoring for PSG against Olympiakos on Tuesday. Photo: Louisia Gouliamaki/AFP

An utterly commanding second-half performance helped Paris Saint-Germain begin their Champions League campaign with a 4-1 win against Olympiakos in Greece on Tuesday.

Edinson Cavani had put the French champions ahead at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium with 19 minutes on the clock, but Olympiakos deservedly drew level six minutes later courtesy of a fine individual effort by Vladimir Weiss.

However, PSG upped their game after the restart and were rewarded for their efforts when Thiago Motta twice headed home from corners.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw a 82nd-minute penalty saved before Marquinhos marked his debut with a late headed effort to wrap up an excellent win.

The Ligue 1 club are hoping to improve on last season's run to the quarter-finals, where they were a little unlucky to lose on away goals to Barcelona, and their new coach Laurent Blanc was desperate to get off to a positive start in Group C.

Blanc, who led Bordeaux to victory against Olympiakos in the last 16 in 2009-10, handed Brazilian summer signing Marquinhos his long-awaited debut in central defence with Alex missing due to injury, while Maxwell and Cavani were also restored to the starting line-up.

Against such an expensively assembled away side, Olympiakos were relying on the notoriously hostile atmosphere of their ground in the Athens port of Piraeus to tip the scales in their favour, and Michel's side came flying out of the blocks.

Slovakia winger Weiss crashed an effort off the bar inside the opening minute before David Fuster rattled the post from the edge of the area after PSG had failed to deal with a corner.

However, it was the visitors who took the lead against the run of play thanks to a goal from their record 64 million-euro ($85.5 million) summer recruit Cavani.

The Uruguayan just stayed onside to connect with Maxwell's square pass and slide the ball into an empty net after a superb Ibrahimovic pass had cut open the home defence.

The lead did not last long, however, with Weiss restoring parity in remarkable fashion, nutmegging Marquinhos and sidestepping Thiago Silva before finishing past Salvatore Sirigu in goal with the help of a deflection off Gregory Van der Wiel.

Olympiakos spent much of the opening period in the PSG half but it was the visitors who enjoyed most of the possession and the introduction of Ezequiel Lavezzi at the interval in place of Lucas helped swing the game definitively their way.

Roberto turned a powerful Cavani shot around the post as PSG pressed, and Blanc's side retook the lead in the 68th minute when Lavezzi's corner from the left was headed in by Motta, who had escaped the attentions of Andreas Samaris inside the area.

Five minutes later, Motta scored again with a near-identical goal, getting away from Samaris to head in Lavezzi's corner.

Brazilian-born Italy international midfielder Motta has never been a prolific scorer but his goals ended Olympiakos's hopes, and they crumbled towards the end.

Ibrahimovic missed from 12 yards after being upended inside the box by the hapless Samaris, but Marquinhos capped his first appearance for PSG with a goal as he headed home in the 86th minute, the home defence again going missing at a corner.

Fresh from this result, PSG will next face Benfica at the Parc des Princes early next month in a game which is likely to be pivotal, especially after the Portuguese club won their opening Group C game 2-0 against Anderlecht.

Marseille v Arsenal

Marseille may be the outsiders in a testing Champions League Group F, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger knows his team cannot afford to underestimate the French club on Wednesday.

The two clubs renew acquaintances at the Stade Velodrome in their group opener on Wednesday, two years after their last meeting in the south of France, when a last-gasp Aaron Ramsey goal secured a 1-0 win for the Gunners.

A limited Marseille side surpassed expectations to reach the quarter-finals that season and, with many of those who participated in that campaign remaining on the books, they have progressed under coach Elie Baup.

While the presence of Arsenal as well as last season's Champions League runners-up Borussia Dortmund and Italy's Napoli makes Marseille the outsiders, Wenger believes the French team boast an excellent mix of defensive solidity and attacking flair.

"It is the toughest group. All four teams have a chance of qualifying," said Wenger at an eve-of-game press conference at the Velodrome on Tuesday.

"On average, you need 10 points to qualify. We can't say now that we will get nine points at home, so the start of the competition is very important for the confidence of the team. We will try to win.

"Marseille is a city where the people are always very passionate and the team is usually very hard to beat," he said ahead of the match at a ground which retains a wonderful atmosphere despite currently being closed on one side for reconstruction.

"They are strong defensively, physically strong. And they have a fearsome attacking quartet of (Mathieu) Valbuena, (Andre) Ayew, (Dimitri) Payet and Andre-Pierre Gignac, players who are all capable of making the difference.

"Some say that Dortmund and Napoli are our main rivals, but I would say they are at the same level."

Wenger, whose team lie just one point behind Liverpool at the top of the Premier League, is without a host of players due to injury for the game, including Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta.

However, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud have been passed fit to play after illness and a knee problem respectively.

Despite the presence of such talents in the English side, Marseille goalkeeper and captain Steve Mandanda insisted that he is not afraid and is just relishing being back in Europe's elite club competition.

"Why would we be scared? These are magnificent matches to play in and the reason why we play in the first place," said Mandanda, who is a survivor from the last meeting of the clubs here.

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FOOTBALL

OPINION: Mbappé’s title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project

After being the star of France's 2018 World Cup triumph, Kylian Mbappé has been the standout player for Paris Saint-Germain in a Ligue 1 title-winning campaign that has been slightly marred by the manner in which they limped over the line.

OPINION: Mbappé's title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project
Photos AFP

PSG finally wrapped up the title on Sunday after second-placed Lille failed to beat Toulouse, having not won any of their previous three games when the opportunity to confirm a sixth French crown in seven seasons was there.

The Qatari-owned club can still make it a domestic double, with the French Cup final to come against Rennes next weekend, yet this will not be remembered as a vintage year.

While Neymar once again went missing due to injury at the crucial point, Edinson Cavani has struggled with fitness too, and coach Thomas Tuchel has regularly lashed out at the lack of depth in his squad.

The 5-1 capitulation at Lille a week ago was the worst league result for PSG since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, and the first time they had let in five in a league game since 2000.

A record-breaking 14-match winning run with which they started the season now seems like a long time ago, the latest Champions League failure clouding Tuchel's first campaign in charge.

Mbappé, at least, has been a constant, revelling in his status as a World Cup winner and hardly ever being rested. He only turned 20 in December, but has now won three Ligue 1 titles in a row.

Mbappé has 36 goals in 40 games this season, with 30 in the league. And, frighteningly, his team-mate Daniel Alves told RMC recently that “he doesn't realise how good he is, he can go much further”.

He is also not used to losing, and may have upset some of his teammates with his assessment of last week's defeat at Lille. “We played like beginners,” he said.

Hollow ring

To be fair, they have usually been exceptional domestically. However, the problem is that as long as they keep failing in the Champions League, domestic success for a club backed by a Gulf state will continue to ring hollow.

The title has effectively been in the bag for some time, but their season has been winding down ever since their exit against Manchester United in the last 16.

That, combined with being knocked out in the League Cup quarter-finals, means Tuchel in his first season has actually done worse than Unai Emery, his unloved predecessor.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel has actually done worse than his predecessor, Unai Emery
However, according to sports daily L'Equipe, Tuchel has agreed to extend his contract to 2021. Thoughts have already turned to the future, with new signings needed at the Parc des Princes.

The costly Neymar experiment cannot be said to have succeeded until he stays fit for the games that matter, and there will always be speculation about his future.

“We have a contract, we're not even halfway through that contract,” Neymar's father pointed out to RMC Sport.

Time for a clear-out? 

Mbappé is the one man they really cannot afford to lose, but is it time for a clear-out elsewhere?

Some of the excitement of the early part of the decade has gone, replaced with a staleness. The days of Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti are maybe ending.

Youri Djorkaeff, a World Cup winner for France and a PSG star in the 1990s, offers a frank assessment, suggesting real change is needed higher up.

“If you're not great in every compartment, from the bus driver to the girls who clean the shirts, you will go nowhere,” he told Ligue 1 Podcast, 'Le Beau Jeu'.

“Paris Saint-Germain, after many years without success, have to rebuild everything, restart from scratch, because the foundations are not good. You cannot expect to one day win the Champions League without these foundations.”

The Qatar project needs a breath of fresh air, and all eyes will be on president Nasser al-Khelaifi and sporting director Antero Henrique.

UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules remain a problem, though, with PSG said to have a hole of around 100 million euros and the need to present a balanced budget by the end of June. The next few months will be interesting.

By Andy Scott/AFP

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