Paris Saint-Germain recorded their first win in the knockout stages of the Uefa Champions League since 1995, as they overcame a lacklustre Valencia side at the Mestalla last night.
Goals from Argentine duo Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore gave the Parisians a 2-0 lead, before Valencia’s Adil Rami pulled one back to give the 2000 and 2001 runners-up a chance of reaching the quarter-finals.
Shortly after Rami’s goal, Valencia were given a further boost when PSG forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off for aiming a stamp on Andreas Guardado. Although careless, the Swede was unlucky to be dismissed, and along with teammate Marco Verratti – who faces a one game suspension after picking up three yellow cards in the competition so far – the 31-year-old will miss the return leg at Parc des Princes on March 6.
Prior to the game, much of the focus inevitably fell on the prolific Ibrahimovic and Valencia striker Roberto Soldado, but it was Lucas Moura - a Champions League debutant - who stole the show.
Having joined PSG only a month ago from Sao Paulo for €35m, Moura is adjusting to European football, but the way he took the game to Valencia last night, he seemed anything but a Champions League novice.
With a physique similar to Alexis Sanchez and the pace and directness of Theo Walcott, he scares defenders and crucially, has an end product.
The 20-year-old has the world at his feet. He could be the star of this year’s competition if he can maintain the consistency he showed not just last night, but for the games he has played for PSG in Ligue 1 since his arrival.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti rates the Brazilian international so highly, he has stated: “He is going to be the future of the club”. Few could argue with those sentiments. The only thing stopping him becoming a PSG legend is the lure of Europe’s top clubs. Barcelona, Manchester United, for instance.
However, Moura wasn’t the only bright spark for PSG last night in Valencia. The way Ancelotti’s side dominated the game from the off was really impressive. Intricate and precise in their passing, PSG looked far superior to their distinctly average opponents.
Zlatan was dropping deep for the ball, leaving space up top for Lavezzi and Moura to exploit. Pastore and Verratti dominated the midfield and with Alex and Mamadou Sakho defending stoutly at the back, PSG looked a good side.
They outclassed Valencia, in every department, whose over reliance on striker Soldado was fully exploited. Captain Soldado was starved of service and Valencia starved of inspiration.
However, all the credit must go to PSG. To go to the Mestalla and dominate from start to finish is testament to their stock as a top European side. Although slow starters in Ligue 1 this season, their Champions League form has been strong throughout.
Having won the competition twice with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007, Ancelotti will be hopeful his PSG side can go deep into the competition. Malnourished in Champions League experience but rich in pace and ingenuity, PSG possess that ‘shock factor’ that other teams left in the competition perhaps don’t have.
Quietly efficient in defence and dynamic going forward, PSG have a real chance of challenging the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for the title.
No one will want to face PSG in this mood. Moura and Ibrahimovic will be key to their success. If the €70m fire, PSG have an opportunity to win the competition.