Paris Saint-Germain's bid to become a European power gets under way with a Champions League opener against Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday, with coach Carlo Ancelotti confident his expensively assembled team has turned the corner after a slow start to the season.
After beginning the season with three straight draws, Paris Saint-Germain has won its last two.
"We're getting better and I think we're ready for the Champions League now," PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "The team is beginning to take shape."
With nearly €160 million spent on new players this season, including star signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG will be expected to win a Group A that features Porto and Dinamo Zagreb. The Croatian side hosts Porto on Tuesday.
Brazil defender Thiago Silva, who joined PSG from AC Milan along with Ibrahimovic, is expected to make his long-awaited debut at center back. He will likely play alongside countryman Alex, after France center half Mamadou Sakho was ruled out with a thigh injury.
"I'm very disappointed not to play tomorrow," Sakho said. "It meant so much to me, but I felt a small pain in my thigh the last time I played and, along with the medical staff, we decided not to take any risks."
Ibrahimovic scored in Friday night's 2-0 win against Toulouse, his fifth league goal of the season proving that he has settled in quickly. More importantly for Ancelotti, the defense is getting stronger.
"In four matches, we have conceded only one goal, and that was from a set piece situation," Ancelotti said.
Much is expected of PSG this season, which is in third place in the league, but Ibrahimovic thinks the club must take a firmer grip at home before it can think about taking on the best in Europe. PSG is already six points behind French leader Marseille, which has won all five of its matches despite selling key players, rather than recruiting superstars.
"When you dominate in your own country, then you can think about exporting that to Europe," Ibrahimovic said Monday in an interview with sports daily L'Equipe.
With so much money spent, PSG's fans are hardly going to be patient, and they jeered the players after home draws against Lorient and Bordeaux.
"We must always remember that a draw is the equivalent of a defeat at PSG now," said Brazilian winger Nene, PSG's top scorer last season with 21 league goals.
PSG last played in the Champions League eight years ago, where it went out in the group stage after losing at home to Chelsea and CSKA Moscow.
Dynamo, which is also third in its league, won 3-1 on Friday against Karpaty, with midfielder Nico Kranjcar scoring twice to take his tally to four goals since joining from Tottenham.
Dynamo knocked PSG out of the Uefa Cup quarter-finals three years ago, but everything has changed at PSG since then, with new owners from Qatar investing more than €260 million on transfers overall since taking over in June of last year.
Although PSG is heavily fancied, Dynamo defender Taras Mykhalyk says his team is in a "fighting mood" and should take inspiration from Ukraine's 1-1 draw away to England last week.
"Ukraine took the ball at Wembley and started to dominate in ball control," he said. "We mustn't be afraid when we take the pitch to play in Paris."
Meanwhile, Dinamo Zagreb will hope for better fortune than in last year's Champions League — although it could hardly do worse.
Dinamo lost all its matches in the group stage, conceding a Champions League record of 22 goals — including seven in an embarrassing home thrashing by Lyon.
"We are outsiders, but we will do our best not to lose," Dinamo coach Ante Cacic said.
Domagoj Vida and Portuguese defender Tonel are likely to lead the defense, while summer signing Duje Cop is favored to start in attack instead of Fatos Beciraj.
Dinamo is top of the league and dropped points for only the second time this season when it drew 0-0 at home to Osijek on Friday.
The draw also put an end to a formidable run of 11 consecutive wins, with Brazilian Sammir chipping in with eight goals from midfield during that spell.
Porto's attack, meanwhile, is not the same since Hulk left to join Zenit St. Petersburg two weeks ago, despite the club insisting that he would stay.
Porto may also be a bit rusty, seeing as it last played on Sept. 1, when Hulk scored his final goal for the club.