Laurent Blanc: In the knockout stages, we must do even better

PSG coach answered questions from journalists after the match against Shakhtar.

- How do you explain the fact that you had a better second half?
- In football, not everything can be explained. In fact, the match was not the most important for us, but we had to win it. And I told my players about it. We must win, especially when playing at home in front of our fans. Let's not forget that it was the Champions League match against good opponents, who caused problems to many teams, and now they have made it to the Europa League, where they have every chance of playing well. The first half was probably not very good both for us and for them. The second half was much better. You have seen that we made changes in the line-up. Generally, I am happy with the game. We are happy, delighted at this victory.

- What are you most satisfied with?
- The team. I'm not going to talk about anyone in particular and I have already responded to your colleagues: I will not analyse here the players individually - who played poorly and who did well. This analysis we make directly with the team. Of course, someone played a bit better and someone else did a bit worse. But in general, the current line-up was very interesting, and the players did everything to win. I saw a good performance, so I’m generally satisfied.

- We had an English referee and English officiating, which was pretty tough. Do you like this style?
- Globally, I have nothing to say about the refereeing. You know me, I almost never talk about referees. I am not going to do that today as well. I can say that the match itself was not very aggressive. The ref did everything to ensure the good game.

- Laurent, the group stage is over – it’s time to think about the Last 16. Who would you like to see as your rivals?
- When we say that we want to avoid some specific opponents, we get just them. You know that a draw in the Champions League is an important thing, especially after the group stage. We all say that only good and excellent teams are left in the competition. We know who are the favourites among them. Just like all the clubs who rank second in their groups, we want to avoid two favourites. All the teams are top level, but there is a pair of leaders among them.

- Following the group stage results, you have conceded only one goal, you operated well defensively. What conclusion can be made?
- Most of all, I am satisfied with the defeat in Madrid. You might be surprised, but I think that in the meeting we played in Spain against the big club who have their philosophy and tactics, we have shown that we can counteract big teams away. I am satisfied with the quality of the performance, despite the defeat. Maybe you were expecting a different answer, but this match revealed that we can be at the same level with the great clubs. Now we will have to show it in the knockout stages.

- What do you think about your future in the Champions League?
- First, we will look at the results of the draw, then for one to two months we will forget about this competition and concentrate on the league and the Cups. The draw will serve as a beacon for us. Of course, by that point we will need to be in great shape. The group stage is over. We see that some big clubs can’t make it further. We have been through, and that’s good. And we must do even better in the knockout stages. I hope that in the Last 16, we will produce a decent performance. From the very beginning of the season we have been doing everything possible to stay in shape. I hope that we can approach the knockout stage games in optimal condition. Last year, we had a similar situation. We can compete in the Champions League, when we are in good shape and when everyone is healthy.

- We are used to seeing Alex Teixeira as the leader of Shakhtar. Today, he didn’t have his strongest match. Did you play against him in some special way or it just wasn’t his best day?
- No, we didn’t prepare for him in a special way. We know that Teixeira plays well in the league. If I am not mistaken, he has scored 22 goals since the start of the season. We played our own game, following our system. Of course, we paid special attention to the nimble and fast attacking players of Shakhtar. But we did not have special tactics against Alex Teixeira. Although in the first match against us, he created some very good chances. He is a very talented player who is developing. Of course, he is worth watching. I think big clubs have him on their radar.

- We will forget for a couple of months about the Champions League. How to stay in shape when the team is out of that pace?
- All the same, we constantly have matches, we play once in three days - we have a hectic schedule! In December, we will have a great many encounters. We have twice played seven matches between the international breaks, while last year we had nine meetings once. We have a week to rest, and then kicks off the Cup competition. I think that soon we will start playing on the first of January! It's just crazy! We say that the Englishmen find it hard to play in Europe, because of the busy schedule. But I think if we continue just like that, France will also face the same issue. We might not have a winter break at all. I think that’s a bad thing. But this is my personal opinion. I think it is better to have a long winter break. Maybe not everyone agrees with me...

- Christopher Nkunku was given little playing time today. Can you introduce him to us, to tell us more about his qualities?
- He is a pretty lightweight player. He may not have a sufficient muscle mass, with us currently trying to develop that. He is very skilful, being great at dribbling. For eighteen months now, I have known this player: he was 17 when I took him to the team and he started training with the first team. And the senior team players note that he interacts well with them. We still have more good young players who work and train pretty well. It is very important to give them some two or three minutes of playing time at a the high, professional level. Well, and playing, especially in the Champions League, his first match at the Parc des Princes is basically a good start. I hope there will be other players either.

 

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