Monday, 20 February 2012

PSG 2-2 Montpellier: Hoarau grabs a slice of the points

I hope their delivery boys wear rabbit costumes
Hello folks, I'm back and refreshed after my winter break. 

Sadly I didn't spot Leonardo on my travels (see last post) but I did learn that France has an amusingly-named chain of take-away pizza shops called Speed Rabbit Pizza. Sounds like the topping combination from hell to me.

In my absence, Paris St Germain laboured to a 0-0 draw in Nice last Sunday, and in midweek edged past Dijon 1-0 in the Coupe de France thanks to a Nene goal. A quarter-final with Lyon awaits.

Then last night, The Big Top-of-the-Table Show-Down in Ligue 1 ended 2-2, with Les Rouges-et-Bleu sharing the spoils with second-place Montpellier.

This morning's French papers are fairly unequivocal in their assessment that MHSC dominated the match and were unlucky not to win. And while I'd agree that we couldn't have complained too much had John Utaka's late goal proved decisive, I think on the balance of chances a draw was about right.

It was a match that showcased the two teams differing strengths. Rene Girard's team looked the more cohesive unit, with the outstanding Younes Belhanda pulling the strings in midfield and Ligue 1's player-du-jour Olivier Giroud roaming around menacingly up front. But PSG's vast wealth has brought them that extra bit of stardust, and a couple of moments of brilliance from Alex and Jeremy Menez earned them a point which keeps them just ahead of their rivals.

Chances came and went for both teams before the deadlock was broken in the 41st minute. For PSG Kevin Gameiro twice passed up good opportunities with only the keeper to beat, while at the other end Giroud couldn't quite connect with a cross from the left and Utaka forced a good save from Salvatore Sirigu.

The opening goal came from a free kick, which was a good 30 yards out in a central position. Nene rolled it to Alex, who wellied in a shot which swerved away from keeper Joudran at the last minute as he started to dive the other way. It was a powerful effort from the Brazilian, but the fact that it found the net owed much to the hideous pink beach-balls they use in Ligue 1. 1-0.

Montpellier didn't let their heads drop, and were back in it a couple of minutes later. Whether the PSG players minds were already in the dressing room is open to debate, but they certainly didn't seem to be paying attention as a half-cleared corner was lofted back into the box, and Belhanda dashed through a sea of static defenders to nod home. 1-1.

After the re-start Maxwell went close with an angled effort that flashed across the goal, but it was the visitors who were seeing more of the ball, and Carlo Ancelotti soon decided to shake things up, bringing on Guillaume Hoarau for Super Kev and slotting Javier Pastore into the central midfield three in place of Sissoko.

It was Pastore's first appearance for a month, and he almost made a dream return when he latched on to Nene's pass eight yards out but saw his chipped effort blocked by the body of the keeper.

Disaster struck in the 82nd minute when Giroud was given far too much time and space to measure a cross from the right, and Utaka raced in unmarked to head past the helpless Sirigu. Alex had left the pitch injured moments earlier, and one wonders whether the goal would have occurred if he, not Diego Lugano, had been stationed in the centre of our defence.

The Paupers looked set to stun the Princes in their own Parc, but PSG poured forward and were rewarded in the 89th minute. Pastore found Menez in the box, and he performed a double pirouette to get away from his marker and cross for Hoarau to side-foot home his first goal of the season! 2-2.

And that was how it finished. The match was a good advert for Ligue 1 and showed, if anyone was in any doubt, that Montpellier will not be letting Ancelotti's men claim the title without a fight.

Man of the Match: Alex - Good goal and solid defending until his enforced withdrawal


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