Soccer

French league dominance not enough to validate powerhouse PSG

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The Canadian Press
5/26/2014 10:09:47 AM
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PARIS - Paris Saint-Germain could offer new recruit David Luiz something Chelsea couldn't: the near certainty of being a league winner next season.

Because, more than ever, PSG is reducing France's Ligue 1 to a no-contest. While the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga were consistently nail-biting, decided only in the last round of matches, PSG made Ligue 1 feel over before Christmas. Its total of 89 points was a record. It topped the league from the 10th round to the last in winning its second consecutive title.

Already, next season is shaping up as the same again. As the biggest fish in the small pond of French domestic football, PSG is going to have to succeed in Europe to really prove itself.

Even limited by UEFA's Financial Fair Play sanctions, PSG's cash-rich Qatari owners can still comfortably outspend every Ligue 1 team with the exception, perhaps, of Monaco, bankrolled by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.

Luiz is set to become PSG's fifth signing of €40 million or more. The versatile, attack-minded defender will only strengthen what already this season was again the league's stingiest defence, conceding just 23 goals. Playing alongside Brazil teammate Thiago Silva, and because they'll be coming off the World Cup together, Luiz should slot smoothly into PSG's backline.

The question is not whether PSG's domestic dominance can last, but rather if it can break Lyon's record of seven straight league titles from 2002-2008.

For the third consecutive season, PSG again had the most prolific attack, scoring 84 goals— 26 of them from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, again the league's top scorer.

"Ligue 1 is continuing to grow with Monaco, Lyon, Marseille. We're raising the level," Ibrahimovic said.

Really? That can be argued both ways. While PSG's acquisition of global stars like Ibrahimovic has burnished the Ligue 1 brand, the ease with which he scores, the gulf in class between him and players from other clubs, reflects an unbalanced, top-heavy league with PSG out of reach for French opponents.

Coach Laurent Blanc's team won only two of its six matches against top-four teams. That highlighted both the fragility of PSG under pressure and its opponents' erratic performances during the season. Often unwilling to take risks away from home, conservatively playing for draws, PSG's main rivals facilitated its route to the title.

PSG's winning margin over runner-up Monaco was nine points, even more comfortable than its eight-point cushion over Marseille the previous season. In 2012-13, third-place Lyon finished 16 points behind PSG. This time, Lille was 18 points adrift in third.

Monaco must now rebuild having sacked coach Claudio Ranieri. While his replacement will need time to adapt, Blanc will be in his second season at PSG. That stability also increases its prospects for a hat-trick of league titles.

Rybolovlev's wealth and Monaco's tax breaks attracted Colombia striker Radamel Falcao and countryman James Rodriguez, one of the best young wingers in Europe. But its squad remains light compared to PSG's strength in depth built over three years of Qatari ownership.

Lyon, funding a new stadium, relies on talent from its youth academy and faces another difficult summer holding onto rising home-grown stars like forward Alexandre Lacazette and France midfielder Clement Grenier.

Weak competition isn't necessarily good for PSG. The team's sense of security lulled Blanc's players into bad habits at times, especially toward the end of the season when they went off the boil.

That can be fatal against Europe's top teams. Against Chelsea, PSG failed to protect a two-goal advantage in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal.

Next season, PSG's stars must respond better when they're pushed around in Europe or risk being written off as playground bullies in an uncompetitive domestic league.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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