Friday, 26 October 2012

Who can halt the PSG express?

It's been a good week for Paris Saint-Germain.

Saturday's slightly-shaky-but-we'll-take-it-anyway 1-0 victory over Stade de Reims sent us top of the Ligue 1 table, a position in which we remain thanks to erstwhile league leaders Marseille succumbing 1-0 to Troyes on Sunday night.

Then in midweek the team managed to remove a large monkey from their collective back by claiming an away win in Europe at the 11th time of asking, Zlatan and Jezza Menezza finding the net in a 2-0 Champions League triumph over Dynamo Zagreb.

We'll talk about Europe some other time, because this weekend the focus returns to domestic matters, with an away trip to bottom-of-the-table Nancy in prospect.

By half-time in Saturday's game we'll be a quarter of the way through the 2012/13 season, and the table has settled down sufficiently for us to be able to draw some conclusions as to who is going to do what this season.

Much was made of PSG taking over the league leadership last week, with some pundits predicting that they will be occupying top spot for the rest of the season.

Obviously the quality of PSG's expensively-assembled squad means that the landscape is very different now than it has been in previous years, but it should be noted that none of the last five Ligue 1 champions have been top at the quarter-season mark; you have to go back to 2006/07, when eventual title winners Lyon began their campaign with a run of eight wins and a draw.

The stats also tell us that if you're not in the top six by now then you're not going to feature in the title race. In each of the last five years the eventual top two have already established themselves among the leading teams. So sorry to disappoint you Lille and Montpellier fans, but your title chances have already gone the same way as James Blunt's musical career; MHSC supporters probably didn't need me to tell them that though.

Bordeaux's lack of goals would also appear to rule them out of the reckoning, as, according to recent history, any wannabe champions should by now have found the net 12 times or more. Francois Gillot's side have a fine defence, the second best in the division so far, but unless they can make the jump from being a reactive to a pro-active team, it seems unlikely they'll figure in the shake-up.

That leaves us with the top five. It would take a brave man to suggest that either Toulouse or Valenciennes can make a sustained run at the Champions League spots, but victory for the latter in their big derby match with LOSC on Saturday would certainly go some way towards establishing their credentials as surprise contenders for a European place.

So it could be down to the current top-three to contest top spot. On the face of it, the squads of both OL (lack of experience) and OM (lack of depth) have deficiencies which should stop them keeping pace with PSG over the course of a whole season but, as Montpellier showed last year, it can be done. We may have a better of idea of the relative strengths of the challengers after Sunday night's meeting between Marseille and Lyon at the Velodrome.


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