Jose Mourinho – don’t you just love him?- has thrown the gauntlet down for tonight’s UEFA Champions League tie between Chelsea and Paris St. Germain by claiming that his team have more competitive training games than PSG have in Ligue 1. That’s a dangerous and premature statement to make given the tie kicks-off at Stamford Bridge at 1-1. Mourinho was also on BBC Radio this morning saying that PSG were the most physical side Chelsea had faced this season. At the same time, he said he expected more football from the French champions.
PSG may have won Ligue 1 for the past two seasons, but this year, they are facing tougher competition. Lyon are the current leaders, but Laurent Blanc’s team are now just one point behind them. Lyon’s budget for 2014-15 was reported as EUR 117m, versus PSG’s EUR 480m, by France Football back in August. So it’s clear who’s getting the greater value at the moment! Marseille (EUR 120m) are also running PSG a close third.
It’s good that PSG should have a fight on their hands in Ligue 1 this time round. Lyon have some very promising players, notably Alexandre Lacazette, the 23 year-old striker who seems destined for great things. He’s netted 23 goals this season and is already being eyed by clubs around Europe. Manchester City are among the clubs that have expressed an interest in him.
Mourinho’s comment about competitiveness is a little unfair, although it cannot be denied that the English Premier, in its upper echelons, is stronger than Ligue 1. Two French sides are in the last 16 and one of those, Monaco, is poised to claim a last eight place after beating Arsenal in the first leg in London. Lille were the third team and they were beaten by Porto in the play-off round. In the Europa League, Guincamp, St. Etienne and the second-chancers Lille all fell cheaply.
The meeting between Chelsea and PSG is a clash of “new money”, two clubs that have benefitted enormously from inflated investment. Chelsea’s position in England is similar to PSG’s in France. The difference is, Chelsea have already climbed among Europe’s elite, PSG are still trying to build that type of reputation. While we all see the Premier as this wonderful edifice that includes Europe’s greatest clubs, the truth is that outside a band of half a dozen or so, the attractiveness of Stoke City, Southampton and Sunderland is no more compelling – on a European scale – than Metz, Montpellier and Nantes.
In terms of competitiveness, PSG cannot be accused of having it all their own way. But can you say the same about the Premier’s top clubs? The Premiership’s top six is something of a closed shop. Over the past decade, 11 clubs have finished in the top six, of which only two (Arsenal and Chelsea) have spent every season in the upper quartile.
|Years in top six||Highest||Lowest||10-year Av||5-year Av|
The other clubs that have finished in the top six in the past decade: Newcastle x 1, Aston Villa x 3, Blackburn x 1 and Bolton x 1. This means, in theory, that the Premier is very much a two (possibly three) -speed competition and therefore around 60% of fixtures may simply be a case of the top clubs cast in the role of “flat-track bullies” – possibly little different to France?
Look at Ligue 1 and over the past five years, 15 clubs have featured in the top six. Only Lille and Lyon have been present in every top six. The past two seasons have seen only seven clubs featured, with PSG, Lille, St. Etienne, Lyon and Marseille in both and Monaco changing places with Nice in 2013-14. This season, before the Chelsea v PSG game, the top six comprised five of last season’s top six:
|Paris St Germain||28||15||11||2||50||24||56|
And in England…
There’s another reason why Mourinho may regret playing mind games ahead of the second leg – Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This fellow is just behind Ronaldo and Messi when you talk about supreme talent. He’s older than both, but he has the brain and technique (if not necessarily the legs) to cause havoc in the Chelsea defence. And he may fancy impressing Mourinho given there have been stories filtering out of springtime Paris that the other “special one” would not be opposed to a swansong in London. Tonight’s body language will be interesting..