Monday, 30 April 2012

Lille 2-1 PSG: As it happened

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Matuidi: Blaise-ing a trail to Euro 2012?

Paris buses differ from their English counter-parts by often being on time
TWO SEATS FOR THREE IN THE MIDDLE declares today's Parisien, making Paris St-Germain sound a bit like an over-crowded bus.

The journal is referring to Sunday's crunch game against Lille, before which Carlo Ancelotti will have a big decision to make about the complexion of his midfield.

Momo Sissoko is returning after suspension, and the article debates whether he should come back into the team and, if so, who should make way: Thiago Motta, Matthieu Bodmer or Blaise Matuidi.

If I was in charge it would be an easy decision: The three incumbents are all technically superior to Momo, and far less likely to do some kind of stupid lunge, get sent off, and cost us the match/title. It's a no brainer that the man from Mali should remain on the bench. 

Ancelotti in his wisdom seems to rate Sissoko, so I suspect someone will have to go. Bodmer is most likely to be the fall guy, and I would be highly disappointed should Matuidi make way.

For me Blaise has been one of the unsung heroes of the second half of the season. He had a good start to the campaign before his injury in October, and since Christmas has been back to his rampaging best. He covers loads of ground, is decent in the air, and has a good range of passing. If he could improve his shooting (he missed a sitter in the Auxerre match, and has yet to find the net for les Rouge-et-Bleu) he'd pretty much have the complete package.

I should confess that Matuidi has been a favourite player of mine since his St Etienne days, so I am a bit biased, but I'd love to see him go to Euro 2012 with France. He has been a regular squad member since Laurent Blanc took charge, but his chances on the pitch have been limited to four caps so far, and you would imagine his is one of a few borderline selections Blanc is pondering.

It's probably a bit much to expect him to displace Yann M'Vila or Yohan Cabaye, France's first-choice holding midfielders, but if he can maintain his form between now and the end of the season he should have a decent chance of going to Poland and Ukraine with Les Bleus.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

The Rumour Mill: Man City striker in Ancelotti's sights

Edin Dzeko would love coffee this good
I've taken PSGT out on the road today, and am penning this latest missive from a cafe.

Unfortunately the nearest French cafe is on the other side of the city, and it's raining, so I've opted for an Italian establishment, Clowns, instead. They do a mean latte (see above), so if you're ever in Cambridge, check them out.

Funnily enough there's a big group of French people on the table opposite, currently discussing the correct way to pronounce un verre de vin in English. Their best effort so far is "a glaz of vine", though given my terrible French I'm really in no position to mock people's accents.

It seems unlikely conversation on the neighbouring table will turn to football, but if it did I suspect Paris St-Germain's supposed interest in Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko would be a hot topic. Maybe.

This latest story emanates from The Times, and sort of makes sense. Dzeko hasn't exactly been in scintillating form since arriving at the Etihad last winter, and is widely expected to get the boot at the end of the season. There won't be many clubs who can afford to take him off City's hands, but PSG could be one of them.

I was a big fan of Dzeko during his time at Wolfsburg, and despite his patchy form for City this season he's managed a none-too-shabby 13 league goals. It was interesting listening to German journalist Raphael Honigstein talking about Dzeko on a recent edition of Guardian Football Weekly. Honigstein's opinion was that to get the best out of the Bosnian striker he needs to feel like he's a key member of the team, and you could certainly see that being the case at the Parc-des-Princes assuming we don't sign another big-name striker.

Speaking of big-name strikers, you'll notice the Luis Suarez link has cropped up again, but I refuse to give that any credence.

Meanwhile, prior to Saturday's match between PSG and Sochaux, Les Lionceaux's Marvin Martin was busy talking up a move to PSG. We've heard this kind of prattling before from France winger Martin, who is certain to leave Sochaux this summer.

"I always dreamed of wearing the jersey of PSG, and not just because I'm from Paris," said Martin, while finding time to pose for a quite frankly brilliant photo.

"This is a team that already plays the title this year, and in future years will grow and become stronger with big names. My goal is to join a big club, in fact, Paris interests me."

Aren't we the lucky ones.

Sadly for Martin, who's form this season has been patchy at best compared to his efforts last term, he goes on to say that there's been no contact from the club, and I'm not sure we really need another tricky little attacking midfielder. But apparently he and Menez are good friends, so expect Jezza to put in a good word for his mate at some point.

Monday, 23 April 2012

PSG 6-1 Sochaux: The joy of six

Armand star-jumps his way to a first goal of the season
Much like the French presidential election, the Ligue 1 title race remains too close to call.

And just like in the election, the established, cash-rich, candidate is trailing the unheralded outsider by a few points. Extending this analogy would mean comparing Lille to Marie La Pen's Front National, so I'd better stop now before I offend too many LOSC fans.

Like Sarkozy, Paris St-Germain aren't going down without a fight, though as far as I'm aware our plan to over-take Montpellier doesn't include courting the support of the far-right. Instead we have to keep winning on the pitch, and as statements of intent go, yesterday's 6-1 tonking of Sochaux was a pretty decent one.

Ancelotti made one change, Javier Pastore restored to the starting line-up at the expense of Kevin Gamiero, with Hoarau joining Super Kev on the bench after returning from his suspension.

PSG dispelled any notion that this was a negative formation by flying out of the traps. Pastore began the game like a man possessed, and opened the scoring in the sixth minute. A couple of swift give-and-goes with Nene took the Argentine into the box, and he kept his cool to step inside a defender and lash home. I must confess I felt he'd dwelt on the ball too long, and was shouting "JUST BLOODY SHOOT" at my screen as JP teed himself up. I should've had more faith.

Up to that point Sochaux had shown very little to suggest they might make a game of it, but they equalised in the 12th minute following an error from Salvatore Sirigu. The goalkeeper came to collect a long ball into the box from Marvin Martin, but got nowhere near his intended target allowing Modibo Maiga to flick the ball into the empty net.

In Maiga, Martin and Riad Boudebouz, Sochaux have an attacking trio to rival most in Ligue 1, but at the other end of the pitch they are not quite so impressive, which is perhaps why they are ensconced in a relegation battle. In fact the defending on show from both sides was pretty rancid, and PSG were lucky to escape when they were sliced open by a slick passing move from the visitors. The ball reached Maiga in the box, who set himself well but somehow hit the post from eight yards when it seemed easier to score.

He would live to regret that miss, as PSG scored twice before half-time to put the result beyond doubt. First, Thiago Motta got free to nod in a Nene free kick for his first goal for the club. In a piece of marking Diego Lugano would have been proud of, Motta was left completely free and converted with aplomb.

Then on the stroke of half-time, Pastore played a superb pass with the outside of his boot that released Siaka Tiene, and his cross was perfect for Jeremy Menez, who climbed highest at the near post to flick a header past Teddy Richert.

3-1 became 4-1 ten minutes after the break, as Nene snaked out a leg to convert a demon of a cross from Christophe Jallet. Richert had already made a good save to deny Jezza Menezza, who also blasted over when well placed. And with Les Lionceaux - the Lion Cubs - rolling over like kittens, Nene was able to add his second and PSG's fifth. Again Jallet was the provider, with a ball over the top that put the winger in the clear, and he produced a trademark finish, walking round the keeper and slotting home.

All that was left was for substitute Sylvain Armand to add the final goal in stoppage time. The magnificent Pastore slipped a ball inside the full-back to Armand, who advanced into the box and found the far corner with a low shot.

So yeah, overall a super performance, if you can forget the atrocious defending which we displayed for much of the first-half. We'll need to be much better at the back against Lille next weekend, but at least we can go into that game brimming with confidence.

Man of the Match: Javier Pastore - Possibly his best game for the club, and if El Flaco can rediscover his best form between now and the end of the season, he could be the difference between us and Montpellier.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Big Mama looking for a new house?

Smooth operators
Well done to whoever it was in the complex Paris St-Germain hierarchy that decided the best way for the players to get over Sunday's disappointing 1-1 draw at Auxerre was to, er, go and hang out with a fashion designer.

Squad members were at a shop owned by top fashionista Daniel Hechter on Tuesday, where they tried on some ridiculously expensive clothes and chatted to fans and the press. Sadly Jeremy Menez doesn't feature in any of the pictures so I'm not sure whether he was invited or not, and reports that he requested a pink suit have yet to be confirmed.

"I recently received an invitation and I think it's just fantastic. The players were very approachable, relaxed, answered questions... it was a great evening," said Mila, a made-up client of the store.

PSG skipper Mamadou Sakho added: "It's always nice for us to be so close to our fans and share a moment with them. We receive a lot of encouragement and that's important."

Sakho also took time to speak to Le Parisien about his own situation. The French international has been out of the side for the last three games, with Carlo Ancelotti preferring a central-defensive partnership of Alex and Milan Bisevac. And though his comments seem pretty diplomatic to me, the paper, in true tabloid fashion believes he might be "opening the door" for a summer departure.

 "It's frustrating to be on the bench, though I don't show this when I'm with the other players," he said. " The most important thing is that PSG wins and become champions. We'll discuss my personal case later."

Personally I'd be more worried if Sakho was content being out of the side, and the stats show that Ancelotti is probably right to exclude him. When MS is in the team we concede an average of 1.1 goals-per-game, compared to 0.8 goals when he's absent. This is reflected in the points-per-game tally for the season, which is 1.86 with him and 2.3 without him. Now admittedly the sample size probably accounts for part of this (Sakho has started 22 of PSG's 32 league games) but they remain numbers worth pondering as we approach the climax of the season, where every point gained or lost could be crucial.

Mamadou has become a PSG icon over the last five years since first being handed the captaincy by Paul Le Guen when he was just 17. He signed a two-year contract extension last year, meaning he is committed to the club until 2014, but could he become the most high-profile victim of the QSI revolution? I - and I suspect a lot of other PSG fans - hope not.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Rumour Mill: Tottenham winger and Valencia striker on PSG's shopping list

"If I copy Nene's celebration they'll definitely sign me"
Poor old Harry Redknapp.

A couple of months ago his star couldn't have been higher: he was cleared of tax evasion, Spurs were flying high in the Premier League and the England job was his for the taking.

The latter is still true of course, though quite why anyone would want to manage the Three Lions is a mystery to me. Things aren't quite so good at White Hart Lane, with Tottenham now facing a fight to get into the Champions League and having been dumped out of the FA Cup in spectacular fashion on Sunday by Chelsea.

And life could be about to get worse for the droopy-faced former Portsmouth boss, with Paris St-Germain hot on the trail of his star winger, Gareth Bale. Except we're not really hot on his trail, but it made a nice headline for a few websites who have been running the story this week.

"Bale is the type of player PSG need," Bale's agent Jonathan Barnett told TF1 show Telefoot. "But he is very happy at Tottenham."

So there you go, agent in talking up his own player shock. Around €60million would be needed to prise the Welsh Nene out of Redknapp's grubby hands.

TF1 must have had a good snoop around in the Parc-des-Princes bins this week, because they've got hold of Carlo Ancelotti's shopping list. Along with milk, brioche and bin-bags, the boss is hoping to purchase a Roberto Soldado. Not sure if he'll be able to get one of those from Monoprix.

Valencia striker Soldado has become one of La Liga's hottest properties in the last couple of years, and could be set to follow the likes of David Villa, David Silva and Juan Mata out of the door at the Mestalla due to Los Che's never-ending financial strife. No potential fees have been talked about, but no doubt it will be around a squillion Euros.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Auxerre 1-1 PSG: Meet the new team, same as the old team

If only they knew all my powers come from that plaster on my nose
Much has been said and written this season about Paris St-Germain losing it's identity in the wake of the QSI take-over, but sadly parts of said identity remain very much intact.

PSG have always brought expensive players, usually without any great success. The amount of star names - and their price tags - may be higher this season than they were during the days when we splurged on the likes of Jerome Rothen and Reinaldo (remember him?) but it's looking increasingly likely the end result will be the same.

Yesterday Montpellier presented Carlo Ancelotti's men with a great chance to go level at the top of Ligue 1 by surprisingly losing 2-1 at Lorient. Sadly Les Rouges-et-Bleu were unable to capitalise, conceding a goal four minutes from time to draw 1-1 with bottom-of-the-table Auxerre.

"We're taking things too easily. If we want to win the league, we can't play like that," said Ancelotti afterwards. "We have to change our attitude. Every match is difficult, and before this one, we had highlighted just how tough it would be against an Auxerre side in need of points to stay up. I'm annoyed with the players."

I'm annoyed with the players too, but I'm also annoyed with Ancelotti. Three minutes before the goal he substituted Matthieu Bodmer, who had a decent-ish game, for Diego Lugano. This meant a mass alteration of positions, with Christophe Jallet going into midfield, Bisevac shuffling across from centre-back to right-back and Lugano dropping into the centre of defence alongside Alex. I don't know whether Bodmer was injured or flagging or whatever, but it seems to me that totally reorganising your defence with seven minutes to go is asking for trouble, especially when your defence is as ropey as ours. 

Anyway, no-one was near Anthony La Tallec when he followed up to score after Sirigu had made a hash of a shot from Kossoko and Dennis Oliech had bundled the rebound against the post. It was another fine mess to add to the bulging sack of comically awful goals PSG have conceded this season, soon they'll be enough for a DVD low-lights compilation.

It would be harsh to criticise Sirigu too much, as the Italian had earlier made a blinding save to foil Oliech, who really should've scored with a free header from six yards. Indeed, at that stage it looked as though PSG would come away with the points despite another performance which put the lack in lacklustre. Auxerre had also struck the post through Kamel Chafni, and showed the kind of fight and spirit they'll need if they are to pull off an unlikely escape from relegation.

PSG were marginally better in the first half, but weren't able to get the goals they needed to kill off the match. Jeremy Menez should've scored after a delightful move involving Bodmer and Kevin Gameiro, who backheeled the ball into the winger's path. Jezza skipped round the keeper but slid the ball wide of the post with the goal gaping.

Nene opened the scoring in the 23rd minute, cutting in from the left before beating Olivier Sorin at his near post with a cute finish. We saw the best and the worst of the Brazilian in last night's match, and he should've made it 2-0 after the break when he was put clear on the goal before trying to walk round Sorin, who succeeded in making a block. A square pass to the unmarked Gameiro, or a more decisive finish, would surely have meant the game ended differently.

As it was the score remained 1-0 until La Tallec's late intervention. PSG are still only two points behind Montpellier, but it remains to be seen a) whether they'll give us another chance, and b) whether we'll be good enough to take it if they do.

Man of the Match: Blaise Matuidi - After recovering from his earlier injury problems, the all-action millieu-du-terrain is back to his best.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Squeaky clochard time

Alex: Showing OM who's boss
Hello readers, I'm back from my holidays refreshed and ready for the Ligue 1 end-of-season run-in.

In my absence Paris St-Germain managed to lose 2-1 at Nancy, before beating those losers from the South Marseille 2-1 in Sunday's Clasico. Once again PSG looked about as effective as Andy Carroll on roller-skates for much of the game, but came up with the goods when it mattered, Menez and Alex with the goals.

Unsurprisingly OM were unable to do us a favour in midweek against Montpellier, losing 3-1, meaning Rene Girard's side hold a three-point advantage at the top going into the last seven games of the season.

Which way the title will go is any-ones guess, and guess is exactly what I've done here in my attempts to predict the two team's upcoming results. I was surprised to discover that our fixtures are virtually mirror-images: where PSG play a team away, Montpellier usually face them at home, and vice-versa, so neither side has much of an advantage in that respect. Have a look and see what you think, and feel free to remind me of this post in a few weeks when it becomes apparent I've got everything completely wrong.

Week 32: Sunday April 15
Lorient v Montpellier: DRAW
Auxerre v PSG: PSG WIN
Although Lorient have lost their last couple, their home record isn't as bad as their league position (18th) suggests. I reckon they could hold Montpellier to a draw. PSG meanwhile go to rock-bottom Auxerre, who have a new manager in wonderfully-name Jean-Guy Wallemme. But even allowing for new-manager bounce, if we can't beat the bottom club we might as well give up now.
Montpellier: 67
PSG: 66

Week 33: Saturday April 21-Sunday April 22
Montpellier v Valenciennes (Sat): Montpellier WIN
PSG v Sochaux (Sun): PSG WIN
Both should win here, though of the two games PSG's is probably the harder. Valenciennes don't have much to play for, while Sochaux have picked up a bit of late as they bid to climb out of the drop zone, and have some dangerous players in their squad (Martin, Maiga, Boudebouz, etc).
Montpellier: 70
PSG: 69

Week 34: Sunday April 29
Toulouse v Montpellier: DRAW
Joe Cole's Lille gave PSG a bit of a battering at the Parc back in December, though the match finished 0-0. I expect them to have the edge at the Stade Metropole, perhaps with Cole himself playing a starring role. Or maybe not. Fortunately MHSC have a tough game that day too, Toulouse have only lost twice on home turf this season so I think that one will end all square.
Montpellier: 71
PSG: 69

Week 35: Wednesday May 2
Montpellier v Evian: Montpellier WIN
PSG v St Etienne: PSG WIN
Plucky little Evian have drawn a lot of games away from home in their first season in Ligue 1, but I think Montpellier will have the edge in this encounter. One of PSG's best performances of the season came just before Christmas when they won at St Etienne, and I'd expect them to repeat the trick.
Montpellier: 74
PSG: 72

Week 36: Saturday May 5-Sunday May 6
Rennes v Montpellier: Montpellier DEFEAT
Valenciennes v PSG: PSG WIN
Lovely little Mevlut Erding pops up with the winner for Frederic Antonetti's side, while PSG stroll to routine win over mid-table Valenciennes, whose players minds are already wandering towards the summer days spent relaxing on a warm beach.
PSG: 75
Montpellier: 74

Week 37: Sunday May 13
Montpellier v Lille: DRAW
PSG v Rennes: PSG WIN
Lille still need the points to keep themselves in the top three, and play out an entertaining draw with Rene Girard's team. Down in Paris, the pressure is on PSG to deliver, and despite putting in a distinctly average performance they grind out an unspectacular victory thanks to a moment of brilliance from Menez/Pastore/Nene/Hoarau/Gamiero/Bodmer (delete as applicable).
PSG: 78
Montpellier: 75

Week 38: Sunday May 20
Auxerre v Montpellier: Montpellier WIN
Lorient v PSG: PSG WIN
Montpellier go into the final weekend knowing they need to better PSG's result to win the title. They keep their end of the bargain by thumping already-relegated Auxerre, but can only watch on as PSG dish out the same treatment to Lorient, condemning Christian Gorcuff's side to the drop. Champions!
PSG: 81
Montpellier: 78

So yeah, by reckoning it's going to the last day of the season. Sit tight, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

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