PARIS (AP) By regularly talking about the Champions League game against Chelsea so early in advance, Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc is doing a great job of under-selling the French league.
Not that he needs much help.
PSG’s dominance this season has been so absolute – it leads Monaco by 21 points – that the race for second place is more exciting.
At the current rate, PSG will finish the season with 104 points – smashing its own record by 15 points. In 22 matches, PSG has scored 56 goals for only 10 conceded, putting it on course to score around 100 and break the record for least goals conceded in a season.
A second straight domestic treble is odds-on, with PSG playing in the League Cup semifinals on Tuesday, and if PSG avoids defeat at Saint-Etienne on Sunday it will equal the longest unbeaten league run of 32 games, set by Nantes in the 1994-95 season.
“PSG will be judged on the Champions League, they are far too strong for France,” France’s World Cup-winning defender Bixente Lizarazu said.
Therefore, it is understandable that Blanc has spent the past two weeks talking about the importance of being ready to face Chelsea in the last 16 – even though the first leg is not until Feb. 16.
But in doing so he may as well grab a megaphone and tell everyone how weak PSG’s competition is. The quest for a fourth straight title is a total procession, albeit a brutal one, with Saturday’s 5-1 hammering of Angers extending an unbeaten league run dragging back to March 15.
Added to that, it was a club record-equaling 11th straight win and improved its whopping goal difference to + 46. At the ripe age of 34, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on course for his best ever league goal tally – he has 17 so far, despite missing five games – while winger Angel di Maria has already beaten his personal scoring record over a season, as well as setting up the most goals in Ligue 1.
PSG will fancy its chances of finishing the league season unbeaten, and the only defeat anywhere has been a 1-0 reverse away to Real Madrid in the Champions League on Nov. 3.
In boxing terms, PSG’s dominance would be the equivalent of a heavyweight champion knocking out petrified middleweights within a minute of the opening round.
Lyon and Marseille challenged PSG last season but both now languish 30 points behind.
Monaco threatened to upstage PSG after a massive cash outlay under Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev three years ago, but then did everything to undermine that bid.
In the past two seasons, Monaco has sold Colombia’s World Cup star James Rodriguez to Real Madrid, France midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia to Inter Milan, speedy winger Yannick Ferreira Carrasco to Atletico Madrid, lynchpin defender Aymen Abdennour to Valencia, and rising star Anthony Martial to Manchester United – as well as letting once-feared striker Radamel Falcao join United on loan.
For a club hoping to challenge PSG, that is a funny way of showing it.
Instead, Monaco has now become a profit-making club – and a very good one – using its vast scouting network to recruit exceptionally talented young players and sell them for a profit.
Even if Monaco does finish second, it would be hard to bet against the club selling more of its promising assets.
Monaco has achieved one thing PSG never has, though – reaching the Champions League final, in 2004 – while Marseille remains the only French club to win it, back in 1993.
But Marseille only has an outside shot of qualifying for next season’s Champions League and behind the scenes things are as hectic as usual. Having spent several seasons clearing debts, it also has scant funds available.
Owner Margarita Louis-Dreyfus is increasingly keen to sell – the asking price is around ? 85-100 million euros – with potential buyers from Kazakhstan, Kuwait and China showing an interest, according to a report Sunday on football show Telefoot.
However, any buyer would have to invest considerably more to attract the likes of Di Maria and Edinson Cavani – PSG’s ?64-million striker who now sits on the bench.
Buying Marseille comes with another snag: the Stade Velodrome is owned by the city and mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin does not want to sell it.
“As long as I’m mayor of Marseille, it won’t change,” he adamantly told Telefoot.
The example of Lens should be a warning sign to clubs hoping for a miracle investor, too.
Having secured considerable backing from major shareholder Hafiz Mammadov of Azerbaijan, all seemed promising when the northern club won promotion back to the first division two seasons ago.
That was until the league’s financial watchdog (DNCG) spotted missing funds in the club’s proposed budget for 2014-15, the promotion was ruled invalid and Lens was ordered to be relegated no matter where it finished in Ligue 1 last season.
Lens is now in seventh place in the second division.
The best hope of a long-term challenge to PSG rests with Lyon, which has now moved into a new stadium – which it fully owns – and always has promising players coming through from its superbly-run youth academy.
But Lyon only has a slim chance of keeping star striker Alexandre Lacazette, who recently gave an interview saying he would relish playing in the Premier League.
Therefore, next season could be the same all over again – with little excitement outside of PSG’s Champions League campaign.
Furthermore, club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has lamented how the atmosphere at Parc des Princes is far less passionate than at Saint-Etienne, Marseille or Nantes – storied clubs with a loyal and noisy fan base.
The atmosphere at Parc des Princes is stifled and much akin to a theater crowd in the way it is excessively demanding – with some fans even jeering 20 minutes into Saturday’s rout of Angers, while others were still taking their seats.
Unlike other major European cities, Paris does not have a cross-city rival to at least make for some exciting local derbies and PSG’s fans appear only vaguely interested until their team gets into heavy scoring mode.
Spoilt home fans even jeered Ibrahimovic when he missed a chance a few games ago – astonishingly harsh on such an entertainer who, in just four seasons, has become the club’s all-time leading scorer with 126 goals.
But with no rivals, PSG fans have the luxury of picking holes in their own team.