Despite worrisome moments, PSG advances past Valencia
Two more teams joined Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the draw for the Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday, as Juventus eased past Celtic with a 2-0 win (5-0 on aggregate) and big-spending Paris Saint-Germain squeaked past Valencia with a 1-1 home draw to win 3-2 on aggregate. Here is the rundown:
Since the last time these sides met, three weeks ago, PSG, still top of Ligue 1, had lost its last two away games to relegation-threatened sides. Sports director Leonardo caused a storm in France when he claimed this team was "built for Europe" and that French league conditions did not help it.
"The Champions League is a challenge that fits their greatness, a perfume that could even resemble the oxygen they breathe," wrote Le Parisien this morning. "Are they built for Europe?" asked L'Equipe's front page. The answer, on this showing, is hardly a resounding yes.
PSG will be in the draw for the quarter-final -- and after an absence of 18 years, that was the main target -- but this was hardly a performance that will strike fear into the likes of Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund. If one moment summed it up, it would be the last kick of the first half: a corner taken by Clement Chatome that went straight out of play behind the goal.
In its defense, PSG was without its key forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, suspended after his red card in the first leg. Significantly, he will also miss the first leg in the next round, though PSG has appealed that decision. Ancelotti made his game-plan clear by not replacing Ibra with Kevin Gameiro, but instead adding Chantome to the midfield and pushing Javier Pastore alongside Ezequiel Lavezzi up front. False nines or not, Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita was rarely bothered in the first half and Lucas Moura, so dangerous in the first leg, made little impact.
Ancelotti's caution encouraged Valencia to push forward but though it had the better of possession, first-half chances were at a premium: Roberto Soldado shot straight at Salvatore Sirigu and Jonas had an effort from range. That was just a sighter: ten minutes into the second half, Chantome's pass to Matuidi was intercepted and Jonas rifled in a 25-metre shot that flew into Sirigu's corner. Valencia was 1-0 and a goal away from qualification.
Ancelotti's immediate response was to take off Motta and bring on Gameiro: an admission that his original tactics were wrong. This time, though, they worked. Gameiro was a menace, his presence waking PSG from its lethargy, and it was his breakaway that led to the equalizer, as the ball bobbled to Lavezzi whose shot, after a Guaita parry, arrowed into the corner of the goal.
The goal lifted the stadium and seemed to energize PSG as well. For all Valencia's efforts to push for a second goal, Sirigu had little to do late on. Ancelotti brought on Mamadou Sakho, a third center-back, to shore up things at the back, leaving David Beckham as a non-playing substitute on his return to the competition.
He might get another chance to play in the last eight which, Ancelotti will no doubt remind everyone, means the job was done. As he said before the game: "We are still involved in three competitions and not even Barcelona or Real Madrid can say that." But for all the money this team has spent, the owners might have hoped for a more comfortable evening. With Ibra missing for the next European game, it's hard to see this PSG going too much further in the competition.
Juventus coach Antonio Conte, who had enjoyed some verbal sparring with his opposite number Neil Lennon before the game, made four changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Napoli last Friday night, but once again it was a European masterclass by the Serie A leader.
Fabio Quagliarella was one of those called into the team, in place of Mirko Vucinic, and he set up the first goal, bamboozling his marker and shooting at Fraser Forster, whose parry was sharply bundled in by Alessandro Matri. It was a carbon copy of Juventus¹s first goal at Celtic Park three weeks ago: Forster has not been "The English Wall" that denied Barcelona in that dramatic group stage win in this round.
Celtic went on to create the better chances in the first period, but just like in Glasgow, was unable to capitalize: Gigi Buffon made a superb stop to keep out Kris Commons' deflected shot while Gary Hooper was inches away from Giorgios Samaras' dangerous run and cross from the left.
During the second half, it was a similar tale: with Paul Pogba, another player missing from the first leg, outstanding, it was the evergreen Andrea Pirlo who made the second, releasing Arturo Vidal and his cutback was put in by Quagliarella. Juventus is clinical in front of goal and strong as an ox in defence. Will it be enough to go all the way? Maybe not, but not many teams will want to face it in the draw.