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PSG

PSG hammer Benfica to lay down marker

Paris Saint-Germain laid down a marker in the Champions League on Wednesday with an impressive 3-0 win at home to Benfica. The result, their second win of the group stage, will not have gone unnoticed by Europe's big clubs.

PSG hammer Benfica to lay down marker
PSG players celebrate after scoring the third goal in the impressive 3-0 win at home to Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Paris Saint-Germain indicated that they are genuine contenders to win this season's Champions League with a stunning first-half display in a 3-0 win against Benfica in their Group C match on Wednesday.

Superbly-worked goals scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marquinhos and another effort by the Swede had PSG 3-0 up within half an hour, and a shell-shocked Benfica never looked capable of recovering.

Laurent Blanc's side are now in command of the section with a maximum six points and seven goals scored in two games, and a double-header of fixtures against Belgian title-holders Anderlecht offers them a glorious chance to seal their last-16 place with something to spare.

"It was our best display of the season. We totally dominated from beginning to end, scored when we were on top and it was a very satisfying evening from many points of view," said Blanc, while his opposite number admitted that his team were well beaten.

"They showed the power of their financial investment," said Jorge Jesus. 

"Last season they were knocked out by Barcelona without losing and they will compete to win the tournament this season."

The French capital club were without injured captain Thiago Silva, but his fellow Brazilian Alex recovered from a thigh knock in time to take his place in the heart of the defence, while Blaise Matuidi shook off a foot problem to
start in midfield and Edinson Cavani returned in attack after being rested at the weekend.

Sitting five points behind leaders and bitter rivals Porto in their domestic top flight just now, this was always likely to be a massive test for Benfica, even if the huge Portuguese immigrant population in Paris guaranteed
them a sizeable and noisy following inside the Parc des Princes.

PSG have not been entirely convincing domestically this season, but they came into this fixture still unbeaten and their expensively-assembled squad played with an insatiable appetite early on, carving apart a Benfica side who
dream of reaching a final that is scheduled to be played in their own stadium next May.

The hosts were ahead inside five minutes as a magnificent move, involving Marco Verratti and Matuidi, ended with Gregory Van der Wiel crossing low from the right for Ibrahimovic to roll the ball into the net.

Any hopes that Benfica had of ending PSG's unbeaten home record in European competitions, which stood at 24 games at the start of the evening, already appeared forlorn and Jesus would have feared a hiding when they fell further behind on 25 minutes.

It was another wonderful goal, and the precocious Italian international midfielder Verratti was at its origin, his brilliantly improvised pass inside the box releasing Matuidi to cross low for Marquinhos to stab into an empty net.

It was a second goal in as many Champions League games for the young Brazilian defender, who is only now getting a run in the side following his summer acquisition from Roma.

The visitors then lost Serbian midfielder Ljubomir Fejsa to injury before conceding again when Thiago Motta's corner was nodded in by Ibrahimovic, who scored his 33rd Champions League goal on the eve of his 32nd birthday.

The tempo dropped after that and Benfica finally tested Salvatore Sirigu in the home goal two minutes into the second period, the Italian fisting away a well-struck Ezequiel Garay free-kick.

However, the outcome of the game was never in doubt in the second half, and Lucas might even have made it 4-0 shortly after coming on with 20 minutes to go, his shot from range stinging the palms of Artur in goal.

The sole concern for Blanc would have been the limited impact made by Cavani, the record summer signing from Napoli who does not yet fit into the PSG system.

The Uruguayan saw little of the ball from his position on the right of the attack and was outshone by Ibrahimovic, although he fared a little better after moving inside for the closing stages, finally forcing a save from Artur after 74 minutes.

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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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