Sunday, 30 September 2012

PSG 2-0 Sochaux: Gameiro goals scupper Sochaux

"Perhaps some of the players were already thinking about the next games," remarked Carlo Ancelotti in the aftermath of Paris Saint-Germain's 2-0 win over Sochaux yesterday.

It certainly appeared that way every time the camera cut to the bench. Mssrs Nene, Armand, and Sakho were sitting there, ashen-faced, looking like couldn't be more bored. Perhaps they should take a leaf out of Mario Balotelli's book and take their iPads with them next time.

Kevin Gameiro spends most of his time on the sidelines these days, but grabbed a rare first team chance with both hands, scoring twice to give PSG another routine victory, their fifth win in a row.

Carletto's men weren't particularly impressive in seeing off struggling Sochaux, who fashioned a few half-chances of their own but rarely looked like matching their hosts. I enjoyed this analogy from's Robin Bairner on Twitter:
Sochaux competing well & have out-shot PSG 7-4, but it's like a dad having a play fight with his kid. There's only going to be one winner.
Indeed, it seemed that way from the moment Super Kev opened the scoring in the 11th minute. Javier Pastore was the provider, playing an inch-perfect pass over the visiting defence for Gameiro to run onto, and he did the rest with a low finish. Vintage Gameiro, 1-0.

Matuidi should've made it two shortly afterwards when Ibra's cross found him at the far post, but he could only guide his low shot across the goal and the wrong side of the post. But it was Sochaux who were making most of the running, with Seb Corchia and Roy Contout linking up well on the right, while centre-forward Cedric Bakambu appears to be a decent replacement for the departed Maiga.

Bakambu forced a decent parry from Sirigu with a powerful effort, before Thierry Doubai passed up a great chance to equalise, getting free to meet an inswinging corner from the right, but planting his header wide of the goal from eight yards.

He'd live to regret that miss as Gameiro bagged his second in the 32nd minute. Ibrahimovic worked the ball wide to Maxwell, who delivered an early cross which Gameiro, sliding in, did well to guide past Simon Pouplin in the visiting goal. Take a moment to say Pouplin out loud, it's a funny word. 2-0.

The second half was something of a non-event, though Christophe Jallet, Ibra, and Guillaume Hoarau all missed presentable chances to increase PSG's lead. Ibra and Gameiro also attempted overhead kicks, neither of which troubled the goalkeeper.

"Kevin Gameiro worked very well and had a fantastic match," said Carletto afterwards. "It shows that he hasn't lost any confidence and he deserved to score his goals tonight. 

"We were, however, not brilliant in the second half. That wasn't good. It's true Sochaux came at us and attacked us but we need to play with more rhythm."

PSG will need to play a lot better in the next two matches, away to Porto and Marseille respectively. But in truth they did what they needed to do to beat mediocre opposition with minimal fuss, and that's all you can ask for really.

Another positive is that the team got the win despite neither of their star performers this season - Ibrahimovic and Verratti - particularly impressing. Pastore really stepped up to the mark with an energetic performance, and Momo Sissoko looked good on his first start of the season. Bring it on Porto, we're ready. I hope.

Man of the Match: Kevin Gameiro - Up and running for the season with a poacher's brace.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

PSG vs Sochaux preview: Carletto to shuffle his pack?

Paris Saint-Germain welcomed their first celebrity training ground visitor of the season this week when legendary former AC Milan boss Arrigo Saachi (above) popped in to oversee a training session.

You may remember last season’s guests at the Camp-des-Loges included Paolo Maldini, Brazilian Ronaldo and Brazilian singer Michael Telo, so in terms of glamour a 66-year-old bald Italian represents a significant drop in standards. I’m sure normal service will resume shortly – Justin Bieber is doing a gig in Paris in March so expect him to drop by and give the players a rendition of Boyfriend. Remember, you heard it here first. And probably last.

Saachi was Carletto’s boss back when he was the chain-smoking heartbeat of that great AC Milan side of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The pair also worked together at World Cup ’94, where Ancelotti was one of the assistant coaches.

The veteran gaffer, who assembled one of the most formidable defences in recent football history while in charge of Milan, would no doubt approve of PSG’s parsimonious back-line. Just three goals have been conceded in our first six league games, and two of those came in the first half of the opening match against Lorient.

"We want to be competitive in every game we play. People are really watching us," said goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, who had to work hard to preserve his clean sheet against Bastia last Saturday. "When teams play against PSG, they want to do a little something extra.”

Saturday’s opponents, Sochaux, will be keen to do something a bit extra, as last year’s encounter with PSG at the Parc-des-Princes saw them on the receiving end of 6-1 drubbing. Eric Hely’s team are much-changed since then, with star names Modibo Maiga and Marvin Martin having departed in the summer for West Ham and Lille respectively. Tricky midfielder Ryad Boudebouz remains, and made a goalscoring return to the team for the midweek Coupe-de-la-Ligue win over Evian after shaking off a muscle injury.

Much like the Bastia game, it’s difficult to see this match ending in anything other than a PSG win, but it will be interesting to see what sort of team Ancelotti fields, with two higher-profile fixtures - at Porto in the Champions League and Marseille in the league - coming up in the next week.

One man who will definitely be missing is Clement Chantome, who is suspended. With Thiago Motta, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Matthieu Bodmer on the injured list, the time has come for the return of Momo Sissoko, the former Juventus red-card machine having recovered from an injury of his own. Jezza Menezza also looks set to get a rest, with Kevin Gameiro coming in up front alongside Ibrahimovic.

The defence will have to be wary of Cedric Makambu, who has scored four goals in his last two games: "We're going to play PSG now," he said. "They're one of the best teams in Europe - it'll be fun." Let's hope he and his team-mates don't have too much fun when the action gets under-way at 5.30pm tomorrow

Friday, 28 September 2012

Can Zlatan Ibrahimovic match Ligue 1's great goal getters

Rarely has a blog post gone by this season without me mentioning Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swedish striker is kind of hard to ignore. His yearly salary may be higher than the GDP of a small African country, but so far he has done about as much as he can to offer value for money for Paris Saint-Germain’s massive outlay.

Ibra’s double in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Bastia took his tally for the season to seven goals in five Ligue 1 outings, and he also got up and running in the Champions League with a penalty in the victory over Dynamo Kiev. It’s a tally which has seen him take an early lead in the race for the Ligue 1 golden boot – his nearest challenger at present is Toulouse striker Wissam Ben-Yedder with four – and begs the question how many goals he’s capable of scoring.

After all, this is a man who has consistently found the net in Italy (he got 28 goals last year, his most prolific season to date) and scored 16 in 23 league starts in Spain for Barcelona, both countries where defenders are generally superior to those found in France.

As we will see, the record in Ligue 1 is 44 goals in a season, and legendary Marseille striker Jean-Pierre Papin believes that this could be out of reach for Zlatan.

“It is impossible to say [how many goals Ibra will score],” said Papin, showing the kind of opinionated punditry which made him a natural choice for new television channel BeIn sport.

“In a season, there will inevitably be a few games without a goal, and injuries or suspensions (...) I think he will exceed my 30 goals, but the 44 of Skoblar, it will be complicated. But still, he’s a guy who impresses me.

“I do not envy him because I had other qualities than him. But he is a powerful and tough guy. And it is rare to see a player of his size have such ease in front of goal. It is this combination of power and finesse that I like.”

So who does Zlatan have to beat if he is to become a record-breaker? Papin, who hit 30 goals in the 1989/90 season, doesn’t even make the top five of Ligue 1 goal-getters:

Gunnar Anderson – 35 goals for Marseille, 1952/53 & Serge Masnaghetti – 35 goals for for Valenciennes, 1962/63: First target for Zlatan is the 35-goal barrier, which was reached by two players in the 1950s and 60s. Anderson was a Swedish striker who served OM with distinction for eight seasons, though his medal haul was restricted to a Coupe de France win in 1954. He remained in the South of France after his retirement, but died of a heart attack at the age of 41 while on his way to a match at the Stade Velodrome.

Masnaghetti was a one-club man, whose scoring record for Valenciennes was better than a goal every two games. Though 62/63 was his best season, he went on to record a seven-minute hat-trick, the fastest ever in Ligue 1 at the time, in a match against Nice in 1966.

Philippe Gondet – 36 goals for Nantes, 1965/66: “Gondet, ton but!” – literally “Gondet, your goal!” - rang out around the Stade Malakoff on 36 occasions in the 65/66 season; I’m sure it’s a lot more catchy in French than it is in English. Philippe Gondet’s performances that year drew comparisons with the great Hungarian and, er, English, forwards of the time, and earned him a spot in the France squad for the 1966 World Cup. His goals were a key factor as Nantes bagged the second of successive Championship wins, and how the Canaries, now languishing in Ligue 2, would love to unearth another striker of his quality. 

Carlos Bianchi – 37 goals for Paris Saint-Germain, 1977/78: Ibra will be looking to join an illustrious list of former PSG players who have picked up the golden boot: the mighty Pauleta won it twice in succession, while Nene shared the prize with Olivier Giroud last season. But none of them came close to matching the exploits of Carlos Bianchi, who bulged the onion bag 37 times during the 77/78 campaign. It was a typically mediocre season for Les Rouges-et-Bleu, who finished 11th in the table, but Bianchi didn’t let that stop him in his quest for goals. El Virrey (the Viceroy) had picked up the golden boot on three occasions during his time with Stade de Reims, and would do again in 78/79 for PSG with a relatively modest 27. Despite his goal-scoring exploits, Bianchi is perhaps best known for his managerial career, which saw him become the winning-est coach Argentinean football has ever seen. Don’t say too much about his one season in charge of Paris FC though.

Josip Skoblar – 44 goals for Marseille, 1970/71: Known as the Dalmatian Eagle (a quite scary mixture of animals I’m sure you’ll agree) or simply Monsieur Goal, Yugoslav forward Skoblar first caught the eye at Marseille when he banged in 13 goals in 15 games while on loan from German club Hannover in 1966/67. Arriving permanently in 1969, he bagged an eye-watering 138 goals in 159 games for OM, finishing as Ligue 1’s top scorer on three occasions. The first of these, 1970/71, was his best effort, and remains the target for Zlatan to beat, and helped his side to the title. After retiring he enjoyed an eclectic managerial career taking in France, Spain, Croatia and, er, Lebanon amongst others, and according to Wikipedia he now does some scouting for Marseille.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Stupid PSG picture of the week: Lavezzi gets some life lessons

The STUPID PHOTO KLAXON always goes off in my brain when I see headlines like "The Parisiens strike a pose" on the official Paris Saint-Germain website.

The article doesn't disappoint, showing the players getting ready for the taking of the official team photograph. Quite why this is being done six weeks into the season is unclear, but it did give Carlo Ancelotti the chance to show Ezequiel Lavezzi how to tie a tie. Bless, I wonder if Carletto helps them tie their laces too.

The women's squad were also present, giving Ibra and Leonardo the chance to perv over chat to our hot new Swedish striker Kosovare Asllani. Here they are showing a strong professional interest:

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Bastia 0-4 PSG: Four-midable PSG march on

"Match after match, it's getting better and better," noted Zlatan Ibrahimovic after Paris Saint-Germain's 4-0 victory over Bastia yesterday.

Amen Zlatan. Certainly this has been a productive week for PSG, who hit four goals for the second match in succession to comfortably dispatch a spirited but limited Bastia outfit.

Performance-wise it was more solid than spectacular - Sergio Busquets compared to Tuesday night's Leo Messi - but the way we ruthlessly ran in four goals was, say it quietly, the stuff of potential Champions.

Ancelotti chose to rotate his defenders, with Thiago Silva the only member of the back four to survive from the Champions League victory over Kiev. In came fit-again Mamadou Sakho, debutant Gregory van der Wiel, and Sylvain Armand for his first start of the season. I must confess I was a bit concerned when I saw quite so many changes - after all this has been our downfall in the past - but I needn't have worried.

Bastia made a snappy start, but were undone in the fifth minute when they gifted PSG a goal that was softer than a kitten in a sack of feathers. Their defence decided not to bother marking Ibra as a free kick was launched in from the left flank, and he was able to guide the ball across to Jeremy Menez, who notched his first goal of the season with a simple finish.

The home side responded well, and Salvatore Sirigu had to be alert to parry a strike from Khazri around the post, but at the other the end you got the feeling that every time PSG came forward there could be goals.

Blaise Matuidi volleyed over after another knock-down from Ibrahimovic, before the big man decided to show him how it's done just before half-time. Marco Verratti scooped a pass over the defence, and Ibra timed his run to perfection to and produced a cute first time finish to beat Novaes in the home goal.

In between goals, referee Said Ennjimi was keeping things interesting with a haphazard approach to card awarding. He booked Sakho and Bastia's Cuhazac after an innocuous-looking clash, and risked the wrath of Zlatan by showing the striker a yellow card for what appeared to be a fair tackle. In the second half he enraged the home fans (and players) by failing to send off Van der Wiel, who lunged in on Jerome Rothen and was very fortunate to get away with just a booking. Another week, another incompetent referee, plus ca change...

Anyway, Choplin was denied by a great save from Sirigu as Bastia pushed for a goal their efforts probably merited, but PSG took the game beyond their reach with 18 minutes to go. Ibra fed Nene, and he slipped a pass through to Matuidi, who checked his run to stay onside, then drew the keeper before finishing expertly. Bastia Blaise-d, game over.

Still there was time for Sirigu to produce another wonder-save, denying substitute Tofilou Maoulida when the substitute looked certain to score from six-yards, before Ibrahimovic wrapped up the scoring with his seventh goal in five league games. Nene again provided the pass which split the home defence, and Zlatan was never likely to miss as he slipped the ball past the exposed Novaes.

"We're doing well now; we're one a roll with four wins on the trot after going through a tough time," said Carletto afterwards. "We need to keep working hard, but these wins are great for our confidence."

Certainly PSG are looking formidable at the moment, and they will fancy their chances again next Saturday when they welcome lowly Sochaux to the Parc-des-Princes.

Man of the Match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - the machine à marquer shows no signs of slowing down, scored two and had a hand, er, foot in the others.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Bastia vs PSG: Parisiens need to tread carefully in Corsica

A treadmill, gravity status unknown
It’s been brought to my attention that Paris Saint-Germain unveiled a new signing this week.

Yes, according to the club have splashed the cash again and purchased... an anti-gravity treadmill. This may sound like something out of Star Trek, but apparently it’s a NASA-developed technology that reduces bodyweight to just 20 per cent of its total, allowing injured players to begin training earlier.

“We considered spending the cash on magic beans, or buying Ibra a gold-plated back-scratcher, but decided instead to invest in something which might come in handy one day – after all, you can never have enough anti-gravity treadmills,” a club spokesman might have said. Hopefully they won’t allow Momo Sissoko to use it, we wouldn’t want to hasten his return to the first-team.

Big Momo will again be absent this week when PSG head back to Corsica for a match against Bastia. You’ll remember that our last trip to the island resulted in possibly the worst football match in recorded history, a 0-0 draw with Ajaccio, and PSG will be looking for a significantly better result and performance this time around.

Bastia are back in Ligue 1 for the first time since 2004/05, having won Ligue 2 last season. So far they have six points on the board, but come into this game off the back of three straight defeats.

“At this level, when you make chances and don't take them, you get punished. We're learning how to cope with life in Ligue 1," noted coach Frederic Hantz. "A lot of players are playing at the top level for the first time, and some of them are going to have to learn a lot quicker unless we want to be confronted with some serious disappointments."

It would take a brave man to suggest that les Rouge-et-Bleu, who are bang in form after Tuesday’s 4-1 thrashing of Dynamo Kiev, won’t inflict a serious disappointment on Hantz’s team, but PSG have shown in the past that they are quite capable of manufacturing disaster in seemingly innocuous circumstances.

One man who will be hoping to inflict some pain on his former employers is veteran winger Jerome Rothen, a boyhood PSG fan who played for the club between 2004-2009. After signing from Monaco for a massive (at the time) €11million, Rothen initially flopped at the Parc des Princes, falling out with manager Guy Lacombe and being forever on the verge of a move elsewhere. But the arrival of Paul Le Guen revitalised his career with PSG, and he enjoyed a couple of good seasons prior to being shipped out to Rangers. Last term he was instrumental in Bastia’s promotion, being named Ligue 2 player of the season.

Current PSG winger Ezequiel Lavezzi will be missing for up to ten days with a thigh strain, so will play no part in Saturday’s game, while Thiago Motta’s bad back is likely to keep him on the sidelines for a couple of weeks too. Javier Pastore has been unable to take part in full training due to hip-knack, meaning he joins Sakho in the “doubtful” category. If JP is fit then I’d expect Carlo to name an unchanged team, with Nene the obvious replacement if El Flaco doesn’t make it.

As I said earlier, it would take a brave man to predict anything other than a PSG win, and I’m not a brave man. The players attitude will be key I think: If we apply ourselves as we have in the last three games, we should win. If we turn up still on a high after Tuesday, expecting a stroll in the park, we could be in trouble. Allez Paris!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Stupid PSG picture of the week: Zlatan enjoys his goal (a bit too much)

We all know that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a fairly high opinion of himself.

But up until now I wasn't aware quite how excited the Swedish striker gets when he scores a goal. As this picture, captured after he'd opened the scoring in Tuesday night's 4-1 Champions League win over Dynamo Kiev, shows, he's very pleased with himself. I suppose you could look at it as a good way of putting off the opposition keeper, I certainly feel put off my breakfast.

Pic via the (quite wonderful) Football Ramble -

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Paris Saint-Germain 4-1 Dynamo Kiev: PSG back with a bang

Hello, we're back. Did you miss us?

So says the editorial in today's Parisien after Paris Saint-Germain announced their return to the Champions League in stunning style with a 4-1 thrashing of Dynamo Kiev at the Parc-des-Princes last night. I've been humming Lou Reed's Perfect Day ever since I woke up this morning, because in terms of performance last night's match was pretty perfect, certainly the best we've played since Carlo Ancelotti took over.

As supporters we're allowed to get a bit carried away, but at least the players are keeping their feet on the ground:

"This is not a signal [to the rest of Europe]," said Salvatore Sirigu, who was so untroubled that he could've played the second half with a cigar on. "It is only a game. What is important for us is to concentrate on our job. What other people think, it is not important at the moment.

"It is the result of our work. We never lost our heads, we always stayed focused even when things were not going too well."

Indeed, those rancid draws at the start of the season seem like a distant memory now. The team has clicked in quite spectacular fashion, and even the absence of injured pair Mamadou Sakho and Thiago Motta didn't adversely affect our rhythm. Of course it helps that we had the world's most expensive defender, Thiago Silva, to deputise for Sakho, while in midfield Clement Chantome started the match and put in his best display of the xampaign alongside Verratti and Matuidi.  

It should be said that, for a team containing a bus-load of quality players, Kiev were pretty average. The amount of space they gave PSG to work in was phenomenal, and Javier Pastore gleefully exploited it throughout.

El Flaco could have had a goal in the first minute after latching onto a pass from Jeremy Menez, but saw his shot from an acute angle blocked away for a corner. The same pair combined in the 19th minute to win us a penalty - Pastore's through ball found Menez lurking wide on the left, and as he skipped into the box his feet were too quick for visiting captain  Mikhalik, who chopped him down right under the referee's nose. Zlatan kept his cool, naturally, to send the keeper the wrong way and become the first player to score for six different clubs in the Champions League. 1-0.

It got even better for PSG in the 30th minute, when our other refugee from AC Milan, Silva, notched a debut goal. Kiev failed to deal with a corner from the left, and the ball was looped back into the far post where the unmarked Brazilian had the simple task of slotting home from close range. Not to be out-done, his centre-back partner, Alex, was on the scoresheet two minutes later when he smashed a first time shot into the net after a low, probably miscued, Chantome corner. Dream-time, 3-0.

The second half mainly involved PSG players keeping the ball and seeing who could commit the most fouls on Taye Taiwo without the ref getting his cards out. The former Marseille left-back didn't have the best of games, and his microphone was strangely absent at the final whistle. Funny that, I was hoping he'd sing us another song. 

Sirigu made his first save in the 75th minute, from Niko Kranjcar's low shot, before the game livened up again with two goals in the closing stages. First Miguel Veloso's cross flew straight in, Sirigu seemingly unsighted by a Kiev player running across the near post.

But PSG restored their three-goal advantage in the first minute of stoppage time. Nene broke away, and took an age to release the ball to Pastore in space, and he got a shot in which squirmed under the keeper for a deserved goal.

Yeah, so all in all a very pleasing night's work, and the task for PSG now is to follow this up with more victories. The team's ability to win European matches at the Parc has never been questioned - indeed we have apparently gone 20 European matches unbeaten on our home turf - but away games, such as the match in Porto in two weeks time, are a different kettle of poisson. Allez Paris!

Man of the Match: Javier Pastore - it's getting boring giving it to Verratti every week, so I'll nominate Pastore, who had his most influential game in recent memory.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

PSG in the Champions League: How far can we go?

It often seems that Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sense of reason has, like Kate Middleton’s bikini top, gone badly astray.

But the big Swede, who has made a habit of bigging himself up throughout his long and glittering career, was in surprisingly reflective mood ahead of tonight’s Champions League clash between Paris Saint-Germain and Dynamo Kiev.

"Don't get me wrong, I want to win the Champions League. But let's take things match by match, step by step. When Manchester City were knocked out in the group stage last season, it didn't necessarily mean they were a bad team, just that they lacked experience in the competition," said Ibra.

"In my opinion, you mustn't just focus on the Champions League. The most important thing, absolutely vital in fact, is to win the league. When you've established your dominance in your own country, then you can think about transferring that to the European stage."

His view was one reflected by boss Carlo Ancelotti, who told the assembled press yesterday: “I don't think we can say today that PSG is the favourite. I think we can say that PSG has a lot of ambition and wants to do well in the biggest competition in Europe.

"We have players with experience and we have a coach who has a lot of experience."

Crikey, an outbreak of realism at the Parc-des-Princes, whatever next?

It does raise an interesting point, though, as to what the criteria for success is as we prepare for the first Champions League campaign of the QSI era.

Ibra mentioned Manchester City, and they are probably the only similar club we can use as a comparison point. Their debut Champions League campaign last year saw them fail to make it out of their group, and football people often say the strain of playing two high-level matches a week takes a while to get used to.

Having said that, PSG now have a spine of players – the Thiagos, Silva and Motta, along with Ibrahimovic – who are accustomed to this, and they have what is, on paper, a much easier group than City, who were pitted against Bayern Munich, Napoli, and Villareal.

On balance I would say making it out of the group should be our minimum target, and the home games, starting with tonight’s match, will be crucial to that. PSG were pretty woeful on the road in the Europa League last year, and if we can get nine points on the board from the three games at the Parc-des-Princes, we should be well on our way to the last 16.

After that I would look at anything we can do as a bonus. There’s no reason why, with a favourable draw, we can’t make the quarter-finals, but I suspect any further progress might be a bit beyond us at this stage of the “project”.

Making predictions at this time of year is a bit of a minefield because a lot can – and probably will - happen between now and the end of the group stage in December. But it’s good to hear Carlo and Ibra speaking in such measured tones, and hopefully the players will go out and enjoy the experience, rather than carrying the burden of massive expectations. Allez Paris!

Monday, 17 September 2012

PSG in the Champions League: An idiot's guide to Dynamo Kiev

So excited are the club about tomorrow night’s clash with Dynamo Kiev that they started playing the Champions League music at half-time during Friday night’s win over Toulouse. I like to think it’s been playing on repeat ever since to get the office staff in the mood.

PSG are in Group A, along with Dinamo Zagreb, Porto, and tomorrow night’s opponents Kiev. And though there <cliché>are no easy games in the Champions League</cliché> the general feeling seems to be that the draw has been kind to us. So, other than the fact that they’re unlikely to chicken out of any challenges (sorry), what do we know about Kiev? Read on:

A brief history: Formed in 1927, the initially state-sponsored Dinamo were the most successful club in the top division of Soviet football, winning 13 titles before the Iron Curtain fell in 1991. Their list of former players reads like a veritable who’s who of Russian football, while their managerial alumni includes two of the modern game’s most influential coaches – Victor Maslov, who is credited with inventing 4-4-2, and Valery Lobanovsky. If you’re interested in such things Jonathan Wilson’s excellent book, Inverting the Pyramid, explores their work in more detail.

Since Ukraine became independent, Dynamo’s habitual winning of the league has continued unabated, and they have 13 national titles to their name. Their domestic dominance has been interrupted in recent seasons due to the financial clout of rivals Shakhtar Donetsk, who have won the league in each of the last three years. In the European Cup/Champions League, they have been to the semi-finals three times, most recently in 1998/99 when, inspired by deadly front pair Sergei Rebrov and Andriy Shevchenko, they breezed into the last four before being defeated by Bayern Munich.

The manager: Former Russian national team coach Yuri Semin is in his second spell in charge of Dynamo. He first managed the club between 2007-09, winning the league in 2009 and reaching the Europa League semi-finals. After winning the league he quit to return to one of his former clubs, Lokomotiv Moscow, but was back in Kiev after one season. Since his return Dynamo have finished second in the league twice, and the pressure will be on Semin to recapture the title from Donetsk.

The players: Dynamo’s squad includes goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy who, amazingly, was on the bench last time they played PSG in the Champions League back in 1994/95. Goalkeepers eh, you’ve got to love their durability. Shovkovsky is unlikely to feature, but their side should include impressive Ukraine internationals Andriy Yarmolenko and Denys Garmash, both of whom were rested for the weekend’s 3-1 league win over Karpaty Lviv.

Dynamo’s foreign contingent includes Brazilian striker Dudu, who is notable a) because he’s called Dudu, and b) because he wears the ludicrous squad number of 99. He is unlikely to play, but PSG will be facing Portuguese midfield destroyer Miguel Veluso and the talented Croatian playmaker Niko Kranjcar, who scored twice in that win over Karpaty Lviv. Our old friend Taye Taiwo, who is on loan from AC Milan, will probably start at left-back. You’ll remember him from his time at Marseille, notably when he took to the microphone after OM beat Montpellier in the 2011 Coupe de la Ligue final and led an expletive-filled sing-song at PSG’s expense. The Nigerian is bound to get an, ahem, warm reception from the Parc-des-Princes faithful.

We’ve met before: Last time PSG faced Dynamo was in the 2009 UEFA Cup quarter-finals, and saw Dynamo progress thanks to a 3-0 second leg win in Kiev. The first leg at the Parc had ended goalless. In the Champions League we met in the aforementioned 1994/95 campaign, with PSG winning 1-0 at the Parc thanks to a goal from George Weah. A similar result tomorrow night would be most welcome.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

PSG 2-0 Toulouse: Parisiens manage Tou (not) louse

Sorry about the slightly nonsensical headline, but I had to shoe-horn in at least one terrible pun at TFC's expense. Look out for more of the same when we play the return match in February.

Paris Saint-Germain extended their unbeaten start to the season to five games with a comfortable victory over the aforementioned Toulouse at the Parc-des-Princes this evening. While the performance didn't quite hit the heights of the Lille game, it was certainly an assured display from PSG, who look to be growing as a team and will now go into Tuesday's Champions League match against Dynamo Kiev in confident mood.

Carletto surprised no-one by naming an unchanged line-up, and again it was the impish, fearless, figure of Verratti who shone brightest in midfield, rarely wasting a pass and providing Ibra with the ammunition he needed to pull the TFC defence all over the place.

Toulouse enjoyed some decent spells of their own, particularly at the start of both halves, but were unable to convert their possession into shooting chances, and the lack of a focal point for their attacks was painfully obvious.

In Ibrahimovic, PSG have a focal point par exellence, albeit an expensive one. For once he wasn't directly involved in the move that led to the home side taking a 38th-minute lead, though he was wandering around in an offside position as Verratti played a pass over the top of the Toulouse back-line for Javier Pastore, whose first time lob over the on-rushing Ali Ahamada was more delicate than a sack of bone china.

Earlier Menez had failed to connect with a low cross from Ibra, and at the start of the second half he warmed the hands of Ahamada with a shot from a narrow angle which the keeper patted behind for a corner.

At the other end Franck Tabanou was proving to be a useful, if inconsistent, outlet for the visitors, while Serge Aurier on the opposite flank was giving an out-of-sorts Maxwell some problems. Sirigu had to make a comfortable low save from Aurier's shot, but other than that the Italian didn't have a lot to do, and PSG's second in the 69th minute wrapped up the points for the home side.

The move started with Sissoko losing possession on the edge of the PSG box. Verratti picked up the ball and found Pastore, who set Menez away down the right. Jezza had time and space to look up and roll the ball across to Ibrahimovic, who had the simple task of touching the ball into the net for his fifth goal of the season. He is Zlatan, and he's quite good you know. 2-0.

PSG could have had more in the closing stages, but Alex's header was cleared off the line by Etienne Capoue, while Chiek Mbengue did just enough to put substitute Nene off as he was about to shoot into the unguarded goal.

But a third goal would have been harsh on Toulouse, who were made a good fist of competing with the PSG but ultimately came up a bit short. The lack of a consistent attacking threat is a common problem for teams in Ligue 1, which is typically one of Europe's lowest scoring divisions, and that's where PSG's extra quality could make all the difference.

Man of the Match: Marco Verratti - Arguably now our most important non-Swedish player, quite a feat for a teenager who had never played top-flight football before this season.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Questions to be answered as PSG host Toulouse

Ligue 1 is back with a bang tonight, as Paris Saint-Germain host Toulouse. Alain Casanova’s side have made an unbeaten start to the season, with two wins and two draws from their first four matches, and will not be keen to relinquish that record at the Parc-des-Princes.
All appears rosy in the PSG garden at present, with the 2-1 win at Lille last time out having put a much more positive spin on our own unbeaten start. But while the result and performance against LOSC were without doubt impressive, it was a match that left me with more questions than answers:

A one-legend team?
As we mentioned yesterday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been inducted into Malmo’s sporting walk of fame. If he continues his current scoring ratio he’ll soon be in the French equivalent too, having bagged four goals in his first three Ligue 1 matches. Against Lille the Swede was involved in literally everything that was good about PSG’s attacking play, and the accusation that we are something of a one-man team remains a valid one. How we will cope if the great man has an off day, gets injured, or a defence gets the better of him? So far, no one else has bulged le sac d’oignon this season, and it’s about time the other attacking players stepped up to the plate. This leads us on to...

Pro-active or re-active?
PSG were excellent against Lille, but the match at the Grand Stade was the first time this season they haven’t gone into a game as over-whelming favourites. LOSC were happy to take charge and set the tempo, meaning PSG were able to react by exploiting space on the counter-attack. Can PSG succeed when the shoe is on the other foot, when teams come to stifle their attacking play? The evidence of the season so far isn’t particularly positive on that front.

Small-game bottlers?
With all due respect etc. etc, fixtures against the Ajaccio’s and Lorient’s of the world aren’t exactly the kind of games that get the pulse racing, particularly for players who are used to playing regularly in the Champions League. Beating Lille is all well and good, but we saw even last season that PSG’s record against the bigger teams in Ligue 1 was very good. However they often struggled to perform in the run-of-the-mill fixtures, seemingly approaching games with a lack of professionalism and an arrogance that they could just turn up and win. This is a habit they need to kick if they are going to end this season with a trophy or two.

The new-player effect
Thiago Silva and Gregory van der Wiel will both be available for Tuesday’s Champions League match against Dynamo Kiev, for which Ezequiel Lavezzi will also be available after his suspension and lengthy bout of international duty. It will be interesting to see whether the trio’s looming presence has a galvanising or destabilising effect on the team. On the evidence of the Lille match it could be both: Mamadou Sakho, who now has Silva breathing down his neck, was magnificent, and after a couple of solid displays for France hopefully this marks a return of the Sakho of old. Christophe Jallet, on the other hand, was all over the place, and unless he ups his game considerably Van der Wiel won’t have to wait long for his debut.

Hopefully we will get answers to at least one or two of these tonight. Allez Paris!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

International news: Jallet scores and Ibra becomes a legend (in Malmo)

The international break is over, hurrah and indeed hooray.

I’m sure some people enjoy it, but I for one struggle to get excited about international football when a World Cup or European Championships is such a distant prospect. Still, at least it gave England the chance to try out a new midfield combination of, er, Stephen Gerrard and Frank Lampard. I’m sure two such young, dynamic, level-headed players will be able to form a formidable partnership.

Like England, France are looking to rebuild ahead of the 2014 World Cup, and new boss Didier Deschamps was able to celewbrate two wins to get qualifying under way. First Les Bleus dispatched Finland 1-0 on Friday, before claiming a 3-1 win over Belarus on Tuesday night.

The French back-line for both matches had a distinctly Parisien flavour. Matthieu Debuchy’s injury meant Christophe Jallet started both matches at right-back, and notched his first France goal with a cross/shot that looped/arrowed past the keeper (delete as applicable). But it was the performances of Mamadou Sakho that particularly caught the eye, as he lined up alongside Montpellier’s Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa at the heart of the defence. Though the opposition were modest, the imposing defenders showed signs of forming an impressive – and frankly very scary – partnership which could be the bedrock of the French team for years to come.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been the bedrock of the Swedish team for a while, and though he didn’t enjoy a productive time with his national team, failing to score in wins over China and Kazakhstan, he was honoured by his home-town of Malmo by being granted a place on the “Walk of Fame” outside the city’s stadium, joining other Swedish sporting heroes such as, er. Um. Yeah. Sven maybe?

"It is a great honour, it means that I have done something during my career," said a typically modest Ibra. "We usually say that you cannot become a legend before death. But I am a living legend - at least in Malmo."

Bench-warming was the name of the game for Salvatore Sirigu and Marco Verratti, who both sat on the side-lines as Italy laboured to a 2-2 draw in Bulgaria before brushing aside Malta 2-0. Thiago Motta didn’t make the squad.

Over in South American qualifying, Diego Lugano got some rare game time, but probably didn’t enjoy himself very much as his team, Uruguay, got a 4-0 tonking off Colombia before drawing 1-1 with Ecuador. Lugano, who was left out of PSG’s Champions League squad when it was named last week, is apparently unworried by the fact he has yet to play for his club this season:

“It’s a challenge I’ve taken on [to get into the team], but there’s also the fact that my contract is really good,” he said. “I live in France, I play in a great team, and my salary is high, so I shouldn’t worry.”

It’s a fair point, I probably wouldn’t worry either.

There was no place for Javier Pastore in the Argentina squad for their qualifying matches, but Ezequiel Lavezzi started both the 3-1 win over Paraguay and the 1-1 draw in Peru.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Stupid PSG picture of the week: Carlo welcomes new signing Van der Wiel (in a cupboard)

When it comes to announcing new signings, football clubs usually have a limited range of photographs: player holds shirt/scarf, player signs pretend contract, player shakes hands with manager, player sits in stadium and stares wistfully at pitch. They're all staples of the modern game.
For some reason PSG eschewed tradition after completing the signing of right-back Gregory van der Wiel yesterday, instead choosing to publish a shot of the former Ajax man being ushered into what looks like a store-room by Carlo Ancelotti.

I'm not sure whether my favourite bit about the picture is the moribund background, or the fact that Carlo, Greg, and the chap on the left all appear to be looking at something hilarious just off camera; perhaps Ibra is practising his Taekwondo skills on some innocent youth-teamer, or maybe Carletto is simply describing the mountain of cash Van der Wiel will be paid for signing up to the PSG project. If you have any better suggestions, let me know:

Monday, 3 September 2012

LOSC Lille 1-2 Paris Saint-Germain: Ibra-cadabra lights up the Grand Stade

Jimmy Alegrino and Zlatan Ibrahimovic; one, a journeyman (my opinion) French defender of the 1990s, the other one of the greatest strikers to ever walk the earth (his opinion).

This unlikely duo are the last two Paris Saint-Germain players to score winners in Lille, and Zlatan's double at the Grand Stade Metropole last night ensured PSG could celebrate a first victory at LOSC since Alegrino's strike gave them a 1-0 triumph way back in April 1997. Hoodoo-tastic.

What made the win, PSG's first in four matches this season, even better was that it was richly deserved. The team put in the kind of controlled performance that we should expect from such an expensively assembled group of players, and they've now set themselves a standard which they must repeat when Ligue 1 resumes after the international break.

The team selection helped. I've been critical of Ancelotti's choices so far this season, but last night he got the balance just right. A midfield three of Matuidi, Motta, and Verratti, gave us a good blend of steel and style, with Verratti in particular impressing with his willingness to take possession and play his way out of tight situations. The "new Pirlo" tag which has been attached to the teenager looks more and more fitting by the game.

In defence we looked shaky early on, but after the first 20 minutes or so managed to keep Lille at bay with aplomb. Mamadou Sakho was particularly impressive, showing signs that he may, at long last, be returning to the sort of the form which made him one of Europe's brightest defensive prospects a couple of years ago. The same cannot be said of Christophe Jallet, who looked about as comfortable as Joey Barton in McDonalds, constantly giving the ball away in dangerous areas. One wonders whether the imminent arrival of Gregory van der Wiel has unsettled the usually reliable skipper.

And up front we had Zlatan, whose sheer quality was, ultimately, the difference between the sides. He got the ball rolling after just 27 seconds, receiving a pass from Menez and clipping an angled finish over Mickael Landreau.

Although they finished third behind PSG, Lille were arguably the second best team in France last season, and were never going to give up without a fight. But shorn of the prodigious talent that is Eden Hazard, their neat passing football lacked cutting edge. Nolan Roux had an overhead kick saved by Salvatore Sirigu before they notched the equaliser in the 12th minute. Jallet's mistake led to a corner being conceded, and Aurelien Chedjou got across his marker (Ibra) to head in at the near post.

At this stage it looked like Lille might take control, with Marvin Martin pulling the strings in midfield, and Dimitri Payet causing Jallet all sorts of problems on the left. But Zlatan's second in the 21st minute turned the tide back in PSG's favour. The Swede played the ball into Pastore, and raced through the centre to reach El Flaco's through pass before finishing coolly, lifting a shot over the advancing Landreau.

Lille introduced Solomon Kalou at half-time, and the Ivorian could have had a goal in slightly fortunate circumstances when Sirigu dived to punch away a cross but only succeeded in deflecting it onto Kalou's shins. Fortunately for those of a Parisien persuasion the ball rolled wide of the post.

But other than that Sirigu remained largely untroubled, with Lille's possession amounting to little other than a couple of crosses which zipped through the six-yard box, and a header from substitute Tulio De Melo which was straight at the keeper.

At the other end Zlatan remained a constant thorn in the side of the LOSC defence, and could have completed his hat-trick when his header was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Landreau. But 2-1 it finished, and PSG supporters were able to celebrate a long overdue first league win of the season.

Man of the Match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Dropped deep to orchestrate most of PSG's best attacks, and was involved in everything, including the Lille equaliser.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

PSG spin the Wiel of fortune and land Ajax full-back

Though not the sort of deal that would make a big impression on the Sky Sports News Transfer Totaliser, it seems Paris Saint-Germain did a decent bit of business yesterday by agreeing a deal for Ajax right-back Gregory van der Wiel.

Most reliable sources are reporting that PSG will pay €5-6million for the the 24-year-old (left), who arrived in Paris last night and will have a medical today before signing a four-year-contract. Clubs in France can continue buying players until September 4, so the doctors can take their time making sure the Dutch international can touch his toes, click his knuckles, and recite the alphabet backwards.

Van der Wiel has made over 100 appearances for Ajax since making his debut in 2007, and has long been linked with a host of Europe's biggest clubs. And Newcastle. He was named Holland's young player of the years in 2010, when he helped his national side to the World Cup final, but his stock has fallen in the last couple of years. Indeed he hasn't even made new Oranje boss Louis van Gaal's squad for the upcoming World Cup 2016 qualifiers, and a move to Paris could be exactly what he needs. Alternatively he might rest on his laurels, content to pick up a massive wage. Let's hope it's the former.

His arrival obviously casts doubt on the future of Christophe Jallet, who presumably won't be best pleased to go from being PSG captain to Van der Wiel's understudy. Equally, you'd imagine the Dutchman isn't coming to the Parc-des-Princes to sit on the bench. Ancelotti has repeatedly praised Jallet since taking over, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the skipper take a spot in the ever-changing smorgasbord that is our midfield.

Meanwhile President Nasser has given Carlo Ancelotti the dreaded vote of confidence:

"I am lucky to have one of the best coaches in the world. A fantastic man", he told L’Equipe. "He is not under threat at all. He will be there until the end of the season and even until the end of his contract. I support him 100 per cent."

Time to back your bags Carlo.

Nasser also found time to big up Montpellier's eccentric/attention seeking (delete as applicable) president Louis "LouLou" Nicollin.

"Loulou is really special, a fantastic guy," he said. "I have great respect for him and what he did. He deserved to win the title last year.

"Montpellier and Ligue 1 are really lucky to have him. I love it when he speaks, I love to see how he reacts., It is fantastic. We need more president stars like him, we will learn from him."

Can you feel the love? That last line is a little bit worrying though, I hope Nasser isn't going to start threatening to stab himself in the arse with a sausage.

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