Sunday, 31 March 2013

PSG 1-0 Montpellier: Gameiro - la renard dans la boite

How nice it is to have Ligue 1 back after a two-week international break.

Paris Saint-Germain resumed their quest for the title with a 1-0 victory over reigning champions Montpellier on Friday night, substitute Kevin Gameiro slotting home the only goal nine minutes from time to send PSG eight points clear at the top of the table.

"We showed a good mental attitude," said Carletto afterwards. "We took three very important points in terms of the table and also to prepare for Tuesday's match against Barcelona with a good atmosphere around the place. It was a good performance. Gameiro showed he's focused just like all the others. Maybe I should give him more game time. He scored an important goal and not for the first time."

Performance-wise it was solid rather than spectacular, but on the balance of chances we probably deserved the three points. Montpellier gave a good account of themselves, and looked good going forward, particularly when the lively Remy Cabella got on the ball. But as often seems to be the case with Ligue 1 teams, they lacked cutting edge, and Salvatore Sirigu was rarely tested.

To be fair to Rene Girard's side, Michael Joudren wasn't particularly busy either, though he should have been picking the ball out of his net in the first minute. Pastore's pass released Clement Chantome in the box, but with Joudren at his mercy he dragged his shot wide.

With Ezequiel Lavezzi rested ahead of Tuesday's much-hyped clash with Barcelona, Jeremy Menez was back in the starting line-up, and to mark the occasion decided to shave some of the hair off his head and stick it on his chin:

Perhaps this facial hair distracted referee Bien when Jezza appeared to be tripped in the box by Strambouli, because for some reason he failed to award a penalty. Prior to this Verratti's lovely chipped pass had found Zlatan lurking with intent in the area, but as Joudren raced out the Swede was only able to poke his shot over the bar.

Charbonnier shot wide at the other end for MHSC, but the final word of the half went to Ibra, who received a pass from Menez but hit a weak first time shot straight at Joudren when he had time to pick his spot.

The second half was mainly dominated by PSG, with Montpellier's losing impetus as the tricky Cabella, just back from a long spell on the sidelines, started to fade. Menez shot wide after an Ibra knock-down, and Van der Wiel wellied a shot over the bar from a good position.

However, a goal didn't look particularly imminent until the introduction of Gameiro, who made the difference nine minutes from time. MHSC were architects of their own downfall, giving the ball away to Jezza 35 yards from goal. He spread play wide to Ibra, who slid a low ball across the box which Gameiro tucked away from seven yards.

As I said, it was a solid performance, and nobody let the side down, with Pastore, Matuidi, Verratti and Van der Wiel  making particularly good contributions. Chantome also worked hard, but is clearly not suited to playing on the right flank, and the team would surely have had a better balance had Gameiro started up top with Ibra, allowing Menez to move out to the right side of midfield.

At the time it was hardly a display that will have Barcelona quaking in their boots. A big improvement will be needed if Tuesday's match is to end positively for us.

Man of the Match: Javier Pastore - Worked hard and showed some good invention going forward.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Stupid PSG pictures of the week: Beckham has China in his hands, Les Bleus get suited and booted

It's international week, so sadly there's not a lot of football to talk about.

But while we await such hotly-anticipated clashes as Austria vs Faroe Islands, Slovenia vs Iceland and San Marino vs England, there have at least been plenty of silly Paris Saint-Germain related photographs knocking around on the internet to provide some entertainment.

Rather than using the week off to knuckle down and build his fitness, David Beckham has jetted off to China, where he probably gets paid a lot of money for looking pretty is a football ambassador. Day One of his tour yesterday seemed to involve having a kick-about with some kids and sitting quietly so people could stare at his radiant beauty. I particularly like this photo, the man on the left must think all his Christmases and birthdays have come at once:

No such jollies for the France squad, who have World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Spain to attend to. For some reason they've been doing a photo shoot dressed in tuxedos; here's Jeremy Menez auditioning for the part of the French James Bond:
Meanwhile Mamadou Sakho has had his hair done to celebrate his latest international call-up:
And here's Blaise Matuidi looking effortlessly cool, what a man:

Monday, 18 March 2013

Saint Etienne 2-2 PSG: Clerc's cracker earns Sainte share of spoils

"The referee told me to calm me down and I told him to do the same," said Zlatan Ibrahimovic of his post-match chat with referee Antony Gautier following yesterday's 2-2 draw between Paris Saint-Germain and Saint Etienne.

Ahh Ibra, that well-known voice of reason. As you can see from the picture below, it was lucky he was there to act as a calming presence and keep the FURIOUS ref under control, otherwise it might have all kicked off.

Zlatan and his team-mates were a bit mad after Saint Etienne rallied from 2-0 down to claim a point in a thrilling match at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. Their main bone of contention was the equalising goal, finished exquisitely by full-back Francois Clerc, which came after a clear foul by our old Marseille chum Brandao on Thiago Silva. Given that PSG had earlier benefited from an extremely dubious penalty decision, it seemed a bit harsh to moan at the ref, who was even-handed in his shoddiness throughout.

With the squad hit by injuries, Carletto was forced to tinker with his line-up, and switched to a 4-3-3 formation, handing a first Ligue 1 start to David Beckham as the former England skipper returned to the scene of his WORLD CUP 98 NIGHT OF SHAME. I know it was the scene of his WORLD CUP 98 NIGHT OF SHAME because the commentator mentioned it roughly once every three minutes, which was nice.

PSG started well, and were rewarded for their early probing when Pastore opened the scoring in the ninth minute.Matuidi and Zlatan combined to play the ball through to El Flaco, and as Moustapha Sall made a hash of his attempted clearance, Pastore was allowed to stride on and dispatch a cute lofted finishing over the advancing Stephane Ruffier.

Pastore was having one of his better games, and was involved in the build-up to the second goal in the 19th minute, playing the ball through to Lavezzi, who sprinted clear down the left. Ruffier raced off his line to meet the Argentinean, who made sure he left a leg dangling and tumbled over the keeper's outstretched arm. Zlatan thumped the first penalty into the net, hard to Ruffier's right, but was forced to retake after Mr Gautier spotted some encroachment by Gregory van der Wiel. Undaunted, the Swede stepped up for a second time and found the exact same spot, albeit with a cheeky Panenka-esque chip as the ASSE keeper dived the wrong way.

Up to this point Saint Etienne had been poor, but Christophe Galtier's side are not unbeaten since the turn of the year for nothing, and started to crank up the pressure, with PSG content to sit on their lead and knock long balls in the direction of the increasingly isolated Zlatan.

Sainté's enterprise was rewarded six minutes before the break, when the previously quiet Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang escaped down the right and thumped in a doozy of a cross. Brandao raced in to meet it, but the final touch actually came off the statuesque Alex and bobbled past Sirigu for an own-goal. Alex again looked off-the-pace, and you have to wonder how anyone can possibly think it's a good idea to have the Brazilian's aging legs in the starting XI when there is a fully-fit Mamadou Sakho sat on the bench.

Anyway, the second half was pretty much all Saint Etienne, and I think Carletto should have changed things up before they got the chance to equalise. With Lavezzi having a quiet game, and none of the midfielders getting forward much, the match was crying out for the introduction of Kevin Gameiro, but he didn't get onto the field until after Clerc's 72nd minute leveller. Following a spell of penalty-box pinball, the ball span loose to the right-back, who pinged a shot into the top corner with the outside of his right-boot. A lovely finish from the ASSE skipper, 2-2.

There wasn't much by way of goalmouth action after that, aside from a couple of lunging blocks from PSG defenders, and two late Beckham free kicks which gave him a chance of REDEMPTION after his WORLD CUP 98 NIGHT OF SHAME. The first one, which actually favoured a left-footer, curled across the keeper and wide, and the second hit the wall. I guess DBeck can't write his own script all the time.

Of course it was disappointing to surrender a 2-0 lead in such predictable fashion, but it's still a good point given Saint Etienne's form and the fact that they've already beat us twice this season. And with Lyon losing 4-1 to Bastia, we've actually extended our lead at the top of Ligue 1 to five points going into the international break.

Man of the Match: Javier Pastore - Pastore used the ball well and showed an unusual willingness to get back and help out defensively.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Rumour Mill: Liverpool eye trio as PSG plot Manchester raid

As anyone whose home is currently covered in snow will confirm, the seasons are a bit messed up at the moment.

But I think a lot of people seem to be ignoring the wintery precipitation, and have assumed summer is here already. This is only plausible explanation of why the last seven days has seen an escalation in stupid transfer rumours surrounding Paris Saint-Germain. Either that or it's because there's not much going on, and journalists don't have anything better to do than write about phantom transfers and make up stories about Qatari Dream Leagues.

All these tales are pretty light on quotes and feature the usual transfer market suspects. Like a dog on heat, Liverpool will take anything, and are apparently sniffing around Kevin Gameiro, Jeremy Menez and Mamadou Sakho. Other potential destinations for Gameiro supposedly include Valencia and Borussia Dortmund, while Sakho is being tracked by Arsenal and Newcastle. 

Jezza would seem the most likely candidate for departure though, being the stroppiest of the three. His agent hardly calmed things by telling some Italian website that his client a few potential suitors, with Juventus also mentioned in dispatches.

"Menez will not be without an employer," said Pierre Bernes. "There are teams interested in him, so we will wait until the season finishes and see what to do."

That's a relief, I'm sure none of us would want to see Jezza in the queue at the dole office.

If Menez is a Marmite player, in the sense that you love him or hate him, Samir Nasri is very much a cod liver oil player - universally hated and difficult to stomach. Being an ex-Marseille man, I was surprised to see him being linked with a £15million move to PSG, but then noticed that the story emanates from TalkSPORT and is therefore probably complete bollocks speculative at best.

On the other side of Manchester, Wayne Rooney has been tipped for a switch to PSG to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is apparently unsettled. Except there's no evidence he's unsettled, other than him having a (justified) dig at the fans the other day and generally looking grumpy. Anyway, Ibra could end up at Bayern Munich, with Rooney replacing him at the Parc des Princes, but if this happens I will happily eat my own shoe.

Joining Ibra sur le depart could be another of last summer's big name arrivals, Gregory van der Wiel, who is being targeted by Arsenal. Personally I'd be quite happy to Wiel the former Ajax man, who has generally been quite disappointing this season, all the way to London myself.

Finally we go to Italy, where Juventus' Swiss yellow-card machine Stephan Lichtsteiner has played down talk of a move to PSG. I hadn't heard this talk, but apparently it was out there somewhere: “There was never any sort of contact between myself and PSG," he said.

“It is possible that the two clubs held discussions, but that didn’t involve me. I’m happy at Juventus and it would be difficult to see me leave this club.”

Sunday, 10 March 2013

PSG 2-1 Nancy: Ibra at the double, Lucas injury trouble

Nancy are one of those teams that traditionally cause Paris Saint-Germain a lot of problems.

Admittedly a lot of teams cause us problems, but the lads from Lorraine have a particularly impressive record against PSG, and indeed did the double over us last season, winning 1-0 on each occasion.

So while yesterday's 2-1 victory at Parc des Princes may not look like anything to write home about, it was a significant victory for PSG, and one which puts us five points clear at the top of Ligue 1 ahead of Lyon's big match this evening against third-place Marseille.

"The first half was like our performances at Sochaux and Reims," noted boss Carlo Ancelotti afterwards.

"But at half-time I told the players to show a different attitude. There was no movement, no intensity to our passing. But that's normal, it's nothing new. Two and a half days after a Champions League match you can't have the same intensity. The next three weeks will be important. We will be able to work well and recuperate."

Personally I don't like this business of blaming the Champions League for all our ills. We're not some team of rookies enjoying our first adventure on the big European stage; most of our team have played in the Champions League in the past, and should be used to the challenges it brings. But it's true that since the first leg against Valencia we've been off the boil.

Yesterday's first half performance was a steaming pile of merde. Though Blaise Matuidi should have opened the scoring when he broke clear but could only fire into the side netting with the goal at his mercy, Salvatore Sirigu was the busier of the goalkeepers, saving well from Lossemy Karaboué and Yassine Jebbour.

It came as no surprise when the visitors opened the scoring through Benjamin Moukandjo. It was a really poor goal from a defensive point of view, with Pastore surrendering the ball meekly in midfield, allowing Bakar to find Moukandjo, and though his initial shot was blocked by Sirigu he was able to head the rebound over the prone keeper and Thiago Silva on the line.

The second half was a different story. Ibra had already gone close when a mistake from Puygrenier presented the ball to substitute Jeremy Menez, and he was able to poke a pass through to Zlatan, who wasn't likely to miss with the keeper at his mercy.

Three minutes later the game was turned on it's head, as a cracking through ball from Verratti found Ibra galloping clear like a rampaging tyrannosaurus. For some reason goalkeeper Gregorini came haring off his line but got nowhere near the ball, and Ibra was able to continue unchallenged and shoot into the empty net.

Ibra was feeling spiky after the match, having apparently taken exception to some booing the team were subjected to at half-time: "They [the fans] ask a lot," said the big Swede. I'm surprised he's only just noticed.

He continued: "This is strange in view of what they had in the past. Because before, they had nothing. I've played in many big clubs and I know that nothing is ever easy."

While it's a tad disrespectful to say the club previously "had nothing", it's fair to say that some of the fans at the Parc can be a little on the demanding side.

One negative to come out of Saturday's match was an injury to Lucas Moura, who had to be substituted after turning his ankle following a challenge from Benjamin Mangani. As you can see from the photo below, the Brazilian's ankle has swollen up like a flesh-coloured balloon.

"It was a very dangerous tackle. I am still in shock after this," he said. "It is the same ankle that was hit against Valencia. I hurt both sides. I do not want to push it because I feel that it is very fragile. I hope this is not serious."

Speaking of wingers, Tottenham's Gareth Bale has been busy negotiating a new contract in public giving an interview to Telefoot, in which the subject of PSG inevitably reared it's head.

"PSG are a great team, they have signed great players," said Bale, who was obviously in the mood for stating the bleeding obvious.

He continued: "They're a team to follow, a bit like Manchester City. [But] they are still not at the level of great clubs. Not like Bayern [Munich], Real [Madrid] or Barcelona."

Friday, 8 March 2013

Praise for Blaise: magnificent Matuidi helps PSG progress in the Champions League

Paris Saint-Germain have progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 1994/95 after a 1-1 draw with Valencia on Wednesday.

Unsurprisingly it wasn't pretty; PSG were flatter than a bottle of Veuve Cliquot that's been left open for a couple of weeks, and fell behind early in the second half when Jonas netted from outside the box.

It was the Brazilian's sixth Champions League strike of the season, but fortunately PSG have a forward of their own who is similarly prolific in Europe. After a spirited run from substitute Kevin Gameiro, the ball broke to Ezequiel Lavezzi in the box, and he netted his fifth goal in his last four Champions League outings to send PSG through 3-2 on aggregate.

Although Lavezzi got the crucial strike, the man taking the plaudits after the game was the irrepressible Blaise Matuidi. As has often been the case this season, Matuidi was his team's outstanding player, making 19 interceptions and enjoying an impressive passing accuracy of 96 per cent. Looking beyond the bare statistics, his energetic running really drove the team forward on an evening where many of his team-mates were off colour.

"It's a great moment for us," said the man himself afterwards. "We're in the running in three competitions; there aren't many sides in Europe who are in the same situation. We'll fight to go as far as possible in each one. It's historic. Tonight we pulled off something amazing, we shouldn't be scared of saying so."

"Matuidi was fantastic. But that's no secret, he's fantastic all the time," said Carlo Ancelotti. "At the moment, he's one of the best midfielders in Europe."

Indeed, it's no surprise that Mino Raiola, irritating super-agent who looks after Zlatan, Maxwell, and a load of other top players, is said to be sniffing around trying to add Matuidi to his stable of stars.

As a long-term fan of Big Bad Blaise, I'm delighted to have witnessed the way he has progress in the last 18 months, to the point where he must be one of the first names on the team-sheet for club and country. Alongside his obvious footballing talent, he seems to be a nice chap too, as evidenced by his recent visit to home-suburb of Fontenay-sous-Bois to support a street-dance project.

"Blaise could play all positions, even in goal," recalled his first coach, Jacques Zilberschlag. "He was a winner who lived for football. When his parents went away for the weekend, he stayed at home - he did not miss a game."

Dedication's what you need if you want to make it as a pro kids. The only possible cloud on Matuidi's horizon is the number of game he has played this season. As Le Parisien notes today, he has already taken part in 45 matches this season, and is set to reach his half-century before the end of March with some important matches coming up for PSG and France, whose manager Didier Deschamps names his squad for two upcoming World Cup qualifiers later today.

"His performance against Valencia does not surprise me," said Deschamps, who was in the BeIn Sport studio as a pundit for Wednesday's match. "But I am a little worried to see him play 90 minutes every four days (...) when I saw him on the ground [injured], I had some chills."

You weren't the only one Didier. None of PSG's other midfielders have Matuidi's box-to-box attributes, apart from perhaps Clement Chantome, who is obviously not performing at anywhere near his level. We can ill-afford to lose him for an extended period of time, so let's hope Carlo is considering giving the 25-year-old a rest ahead of tomorrow's winnable-looking home game against Nancy.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

PSG vs Valencia: Nervy night at Parc in prospect as PSG target Champions League quarter-finals

Much like a Justin Bieber concert, the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie between Paris Saint-Germain and Valencia had a lot of late drama.

From a PSG fan's perspective, the last few minutes of the match at the Mestalla were about as enjoyable as a concert by the Canadian caterwauller; 2-0 up and cruising towards the last-eight, PSG fell asleep at a set-piece and conceded a goal to Adel Rami. Then Zlatan Ibrahimovic was harshly sent off in stoppage time, incurring a two-game suspension.

All of this means tonight's second leg at the Parc-des-Princes looks tastier than a freshly cooked fillet steak with a side of gratin dauphinoise.

"We will try and play our own football, with our qualities, our character, we will try to forget the result from the first leg so as to give it everything for the full 90 minutes," said Ancelotti, who confirmed that Thiago Silva will return to the starting line-up after nearly two months out injured. "We will aim to have control of this match."

The thing is, controlling matches isn't really PSG's forte. But as the onus will be on Valencia to come and attack, there should hopefully be some spaces for us for us to exploit on the counter-attack with the pace of Lavezzi, Lucas et al.

As well as Ibra, Marco Verratti is also suspended, while Jeremy Menez is out injured. But Carlo will be able to call on Thiago Motta who is over his latest injury, and the Italian will fight it out with Beckham and Chantome for a place alongside big bad Blaise Matuidi in midfield. There could even be two spaces up for grabs in the middle of the park, depending or not Ancelotti does the obvious thing and replaces Ibra with Kevin Gameiro. Gameiro has long been linked with a move to Valencia, so would no doubt relish the prospect of showing them what he can do.

Valencia aren't at full-strength either, with Rami and his regular partner in central defence, Ricardo Costa, both out injured. This means former Sochaux and Toulouse defender Jeremy Matthieu - usually a full-back - will be drafted in.

"We are really going to do everything to qualify tomorrow," coach Ernesto Valverde told a shocked press conference yesterday. Ok, maybe they weren't that shocked.

He continued: "Nothing is for certain, so we believe in our chances. It is normal that PSG are the favourites for tomorrow, but we'll give 100 per cent to stay in this competition."

I still fancy PSG to prevail, though its likely to be uncomfortable viewing for all those of a Rouges-et-Bleu persuasion. ALLEZ PARIS.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Stade de Reims 1-0 PSG: Leonardo is Champion berk (again)

Paris Saint-Germain busted betting slips across the world on Saturday, managing to lose 1-0 to Reims, a side who hadn't won a home game since October.

Tongue-twisting Polish international Grzegorz Krychowiak notched the only goal in the second half, profiting from some slack marking at a corner to squeeze the ball home at the far post.

By this point Reims were down to ten-men, making PSG's failure to take even a point from the game even more incomprehensible. Zlatan had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, and Ezequiel Lavezzi missed a sitter, but home side were deserved victors in the end.

Fortunately Lyon let us off the hook by only managing a draw with Brest yesterday, meaning we retain a two-point lead at the top of Ligue 1.

The Reims defeat, added to the loss at Sochaux a couple of weeks ago, might have left some fans worried about our title prospects. But fear not folks, our league form doesn't really matter because, according to Leonardo, we're not that suited to playing in Ligue 1 anyway.

"We are perhaps not made to play in these types of games," said our dear Director of Football. "We created a team to play in the Champions League, not the championship. We don't know yet how to handle games where the situation is against us, where the surface is difficult and we have an important game every three days."

I've made my thoughts on Leonardo, a man who gets less likable every time he opens his mouth, clear in the past, but this latest statement is easily the most stupid thing I've read since the story of the man who wants to rebuild the Titanic. In fact, I don't even know where to begin such is his idiocy. Anyone would think he was talking about a side that won the league title for ten years in a row, not one whose last Ligue 1 triumph came in 1994. Most other teams in the league already hate us, and saying stuff like this isn't going to help the situation.

This kind of arrogance is exactly why we lose games at places like Reims. We can't just expect the rest of the league to roll over and present their bellies to be tickled so that we can concentrate on the Champions League, that's not how football works.

In my opinion Ligue 1 isn't very strong this season; PSG are top despite being four points worse off than they were at this stage last year, and all the challengers, with the exception of fast-improving St Etienne, are pretty inconsistent. That we're not well clear of our rivals is indicative of a team still finding its feet, not one that is ready to compete for Europe's top prize.

Leonardo and others at the club would do well to remember this before opening their mouths in future.

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