Top spot up for grabs
By A. Scott
Paris Saint-Germain entertain FC Porto at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday knowing that a win will take them through to the Champions League knockout stages as Group A winners.
UEFA Champions League Group A Matchday 6
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
After another difficult weekend in Ligue 1, PSG will look to the Champions League for solace but the visit of FC Porto to the capital promises to be a major test of a team low on confidence just now. Carlo Ancelotti's men have lost three of their last five Ligue 1 outings, including Saturday's 2-1 reverse in Nice, and were also knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue at the quarter-final stage on penalties by AS Saint-Etienne a week ago. However, their European form does provide cause for optimism.
In their first Champions League campaign in eight years, PSG are already through to the last 16, having beaten both Dynamo Kyiv and Dinamo Zagreb home and away. A solitary 1-0 defeat to Porto in northern Portugal at the start of October does however leave Ancelotti's side in second place in the section coming into the final matchday, a point behind their opponents at the Parc des Princes. Only a win will do, then, if PSG want to win the group, against a side who just need a point to seal top spot.
Finishing first certainly does not guarantee an easier draw in the first knockout round, with Real Madrid, certain to finish second in Group D, among the potential opponents. But it would ensure a second leg at home, and history suggests that the group winners stand a better chance of advancing to the quarter-finals. Since 2003, five of the seven French clubs to have won their group in the competition have gone on to the last eight, compared to just two of the eight that have gone through as runners-up.
Ancelotti: 'A good feeling'
"It is an important match with the chance to win the group and obtain a better draw," said Ancelotti on the eve of the game. "But it is also an opportunity to forget about the defeat at Nice. We will be coming up against a big club with lots of experience. I have a good feeling."
The Italian added that he has faith in his ability to drag the team out of their current stick patch, saying: "I am focused on finding the solution, and I am sure that I will find the right one. It might be in eight days, maybe in two weeks, maybe in a month, but I am sure that PSG will be competitive in the league until the end of the season. I am confident. We will get there."
Porto 'playing to win'
Porto, the two-time defending Portuguese champions, are currently top of their domestic league, albeit level on points with Benfica. They are unbeaten in the Champions League this season, although confidence was dented on Friday when they were eliminated from the Taça de Portugal, throwing away a lead to lose 2-1 at SC Braga in the last 16.
"Wherever we go, we play to win," warned Porto coach Vítor Pereira, dismissing suggestions that this match might not be important to his team. "That is our responsibility and something I assume wherever we go. They are a quality side, and are not just about Zlatan (Ibrahimovic) but I am fundamentally focused on my team, on our qualities and on our ambitions."
Sirigu, Verratti back
Salvatore Sirigu and Marco Verratti are back in the PSG squad after missing the weekend trip to Nice with minor injuries. However, Kévin Gameiro, Thiago Motta and Mathieu Bodmer do not feature for the hosts, who are unbeaten in 21 home European games. Brazilian defender Maicon is the most notable absentee for the visitors, meaning that Frenchman Eliaquim Mangala could come into the starting line-up.
Paris Saint-Germain: Sirigu; Jallet, Alex, Thiago Silva (c), Maxwell (or Armand); Chantôme, Verratti, Matuidi; Nenê, Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi (or Ménez)
FC Porto: Helton; Danilo, Otamendi, Mangala (or Ba), Alex Sandro; Lucho (c), Fernando, Moutinho; Varela, James Rodríguez, Jackson Martínez