Expect Barcelona, Bayern, Madrid to dominate, but European success essential for PSG, Man City

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LONDON — Unwittingly, Paris Saint-Germain seemed to encapsulate in a single tweet how the club is perceived: an over-confident swagger without the results to match.

"PSG forced to 'Park the Bus' (shout out to Jose Mourinho!)," a club employee wrote on Twitter on Saturday with PSG leading Caen 2-0 with three minutes to go.

PSG was made to rue the tweet's sarcastic tone when its defense conceded twice in quick succession, dropping the club further off the pace in the French title race after a draw. The disparaging of Mourinho's occasional ultra-defensive but successful tactics might linger with his Premier League-leading Chelsea side at the Parc des Princes when the Champions League resumes on Tuesday.

Unlike PSG coach Laurent Blanc, Mourinho has won the Champions League. Twice.

The former coach of FC Porto and Inter Milan wants to complete the hat trick with Chelsea, particularly as the London club collected the European Cup for the first time during his six-year absence.

PSG has yet to reach the pinnacle of European football — the 1996 European Cup Winners' Cup doesn't count. And four years into PSG's Qatar-funded era, the French club has yet to enjoy the sustained success Chelsea experienced after Roman Abramovich's Russian oil wealth started being pumped into Stamford Bridge a dozen years ago.

PSG is ambitious. But while speaking about itself as one of Europe's elite clubs, PSG's players still need to produce the results to convince the rest of the world. Reaching the Champions League semifinals for the first time since 1995 would be an important step.

Like PSG, Manchester City has collected a couple of domestic titles since oil wealth from the Gulf arrived in northern England. And City, owned by a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family, also views the Champions League as vital validation of its rise in world football. The investment into their squads has been so heavy that both PSG and City were sanctioned by UEFA. With restricted squads, they need to show it was a price worth paying.

Facing Barcelona next week, City has been presented with a task as daunting as PSG's to reach the quarterfinals. If that seems familiar, it is. PSG-Chelsea and Barcelona-City are re-runs from last season. Barcelona beat City to reach the quarterfinals and Chelsea overcame PSG to reach the semifinals.

Don't bet on Blanc or City manager Manuel Pellegrini getting another shot at the Champions League next season if their European campaigns end in the coming weeks — particularly with their chances of domestic success far from certain.

Over in Spain, steering Barcelona into the final for the first time since 2011 would provide Luis Enrique with greater job security. It would also help the Catalan club move on from the Pep Guardiola era when they won the competition in 2009 and 2011.

Guardiola, now at Bayern Munich, is still trying to replicate the European dominance he forged at Barcelona. Bayern's supremacy in Germany is resounding, with an eight-point lead, but the lack of challenging Bundesliga opposition could be hindering its competitiveness in Europe.

Bayern next plays a Shakhtar Donetsk side exiled from home by the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Although Luiz Adriano scored a competition-leading nine goals in the group stage, the Ukrainian league's winter break means Shakhtar will be playing its first competitive game in two months when it hosts Bayern on Tuesday in the western city of Lviv.

For a 15th consecutive year Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are in the knockout phase, hosting Monaco next week, but the north London club rarely looks capable of ending its wait to win the European Cup.

Arsenal's track record is indicative of the stranglehold a group of clubs has on the Champions League, while a more moneyed elite seem to share the trophy between themselves.

With UEFA constantly trying to rebuff suggestions that Financial Fair Play rules have only amplified the Champions League's elitism, a new name on the trophy would be welcome. Even PSG lifting the European Cup for the first time in June, with all its heavy spending on players, would invigorate the competition.

With football's biggest prize to parade, then PSG's swagger would be justified.


Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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