Against Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain will find out where they really are

Clive Rose

Paris Saint-Germain remain something of an unknown quantity despite their array of stars. Wednesday night's performance will go a long way to finding out what needs to be done to take the club to the next level.

In much the same way as Manchester United removing the words 'Football Club' from their crest coincided with the business becoming the first British club to transcend the mundanities of the actual sport, launching a global brand which continues to monetise anything good and holy, there's probably no better way of summing up Paris Saint-Germain at the moment than what they've done to their own crest.

PSG's editorial decision was also an omission, except this time it was to a number: 1970. The feeling, that the club was embarrassed by it's comparatively recent date of foundation, encapsulates perfectly the plight of the Nouveau Riche. All the wealth in the world, but not having quite learned to speak proper, and now finding itself in something of an identity crisis as it struggles to command respect.

In recent years, we've seen a shift in the way in which great squads are analysed and constructed. Where previously, great teams were usually eulogised through emphasis on legendary midfields (Manchester United, 1999), great back fours (France, 1998) or devastating forward lines (Real Madrid, 2002), it seems to be more common now for teams to have a core of key players who can be utilised in different ways.

Barcelona represent something of an exception with their midfield, although they owe as much to the versatility of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and company. Manchester United's 2008 team was not thought of with any set line-up, but rather the array of attacking talent at it's disposal which could be deployed in virtually any formation.

The best example of all, however, is also the team that serves as the best blueprint for those looking to buy their way into greatness - Chelsea, and the way they essentially kept the same team for a decade through a core of players that could function in a variety of different ways. Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and John Terry may not initially appear so versatile, and generally the team has stuck to a 4-3-3 throughout the period, but when whoever was in the dugout that week was failing to get a new system to work, it was generally due to the players on the peripheries of the squad at Stamford Bridge.

In short, having players who are likely to remain around and can be used in a variety of ways is the best model for the Parisian club to follow. Thiago Silva is certainly one such player. Marco Verratti and Lucas Moura may well mature into two others. But as it stands, they remain unsure of themselves, with neither a clear identity nor even being sure of how good they actually are.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic would appear to fit this mould perfectly, were it not for the simple fact that he is (albeit a very classy one) a journeyman. Rumblings concerning his departure have grown ever-louder as this season and it's inevitable title victory have progressed towards it's conclusion, with even the club's own in-house media outlets questioning his commitment. Combined with rumours linking the club to a move for Wayne Rooney, the omens are... well, ominous.

A summer of uncertainty awaits, then. It's likely to be a big summer anyway for PSG, as it is for virtually every elite European club, with a host of managerial changes, big exits, squad overhauls and retirements taking place in Madrid, Manchester, Munich and beyond. Tonight will go a long way to shaping it for the Parisians, however, as they face their first real test - Barcelona away. Games don't come much harder, but it's at this level they'll need to compete to realise their ambitions.

Putting together a team blessed with enough attacking creativity to reliably overpower most of the teams in a weak league and clinch a title is one thing, but asking them to do a disciplined job against more illustrious opponents is quite another. The former goal appears to be secured, but to do the latter, that sense of identity is required. Rabbles simply do not win the Champions League - the closest in recent years was Inter Milan's victory under José Mourinho, but that was as pure an expression of discipline as could be found, and there were plenty of players in the team who fitted the bill of men-for-all-seasons, even if they didn't quite have the quality of those at Chelsea or Barcelona.

The expectation is that PSG will lose. And that's fair enough. Most teams would. The real question will be in whether they are outclassed - whether Barcelona are forced to put in a fine performance to get the 2-0 or 3-1 that sees their comfortable progression, or whether they simply blow them away or cruise to a narrow victory in which they could have scored as many as they wished. At present, it's difficult to tell if the Parisians are a couple of missing pieces away from completing the jigsaw, or if they've even got the right picture on the box. Tonight is unlikely to be a happy occasion for them, but it will undoubtedly be their most invaluable experience so far.

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