Thursday, 4 October 2012

Porto 1-0 PSG: Varela and Co. derail the PSG express

When it comes to European away matches, Paris Saint-Germain are about as reliable as the bidding process for the West Coast mainline rail franchise.

Last night's 1-0 defeat in Portugal certainly derailed any thoughts that we'll just steam through the group as winners, and it will be up to the team to get back on track in their next match, away to Zagreb on October 24. Choo choo.

If ever a scoreline didn't tell the whole story, it was the outcome of the match at the Estadio do Dragao. PSG were battered from start to finish, and only survived 82 minutes without conceding a goal thanks to a combination of brilliant goalkeeping from Salvatore Sirigu and poor finishing of Emile Heskey proportions from the hosts.

Carlo made several changes again, and though it's easy to be wise after the event I think he got the line-up wrong. My main bone of contention was his decision to start Nene ahead of Pastore. While I can see the logic behind it - we were always going to be counter-attacking and Nene's pace and dribbling ability are often helpful in those situations - we lacked someone to link up play. Verratti and the other midfielders had their hands full on defensive duty, and as a result the front three looked a bit isolated.

Porto's Silvestre Varela, who enjoyed an outstanding match, set the tone for the game by roasting Greg van der Wiel twice in the opening five minutes. The Dutchman endured a torrid time until the point he was replaced by Christophe Jallet, who fared little better. It was a bad night for full-backs all round, as Maxwell was often found wanting against James Rodriguez, and had to be bailed out by Mamadou Sakho and Thiago Silva on a number of occasions.

Rodriguez headed at Sirigu in the second minute, then fired wide when he really should have hit the target in the fourth. Jackson Martinez headed over from close range, and Sirigu had to be alert to make a flying save from Joao Moutinho's free kick.

PSG had a couple of chances of their own, and both fell to birthday-boy Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His 12th minute header from Nene's flighted cross went wide of the post, and then, after being released by Jezza Menezza, he went for a spectacular flick which was palmed over the bar by the back-peddling goalkeeper Helton. Not a good start to the big Swede's fourth decade on this earth.

The Porto onslaught continued after the break, with Sakho sliding in brilliantly to foil Varela, before the same player burst clear of the back-line only to be denied by Sirigu.

Ezequiel Lavezzi joined the action as a substitute in the 76th minute, but only lasted seven minutes before being withdrawn with a thigh injury. The Argentinean threw his toys out of the pram big-style on his way off the pitch, booting a massive box of ice in frustration.

His frustrations won't have been helped when Porto scored a minute later. Moutinho's cross was flicked on by Martinez to Rodriguez, who guided a delicious curling volley beyond the reach of Sirigu to settle matters.

PSG can have no complaints about the result, but probably shouldn't get too down-hearted. Getting anything in Porto was always going to be difficult, and there were some positive performances to reflect on, from the centre-backs, Blaise Matuidi, and the ever-impressive Sirigu. Attentions will now turn to Sunday's big match in Marseille. Woof.

Man of the Match: Salvatore Sirigu - Did his best to keep Porto at bay, but could do nothing about Rodriguez's winner.


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