Monday, 29 April 2013

Evian 0-1 PSG: St Beckham sees rouge as rogue ref goes card crazy

Last night I went to see some ballet.

This is not a regular occurrence: I'm not really a ballet kind of guy (is anyone?) but it was the wife's birthday treat so I could hardly send her on her own. And to be honest I was pleasantly surprised - it was graceful, at times moving, and put me in a relaxed mood ahead of the new working week.

Alas we got home in time for me to catch the end of Evian vs Paris Saint-Germain, which immediately wound me up as tightly as a coiled spring. I switched it on just in time to see David Beckham get his marching orders for a daft lunge on Youssef Adnane. By this point Marco Verratti had already seen red for mouthing off - I know, I didn't believe it either - and then at the final a mass brawl erupted over nothing in particular.

I know it's done thing to condemn such behaviour as disgusting, shameful, nonsense etc, but I always find it quite amusing; I think football should go down the ice hockey route and just let them fight it out till they're done without fear of recrimination. Alas referee Olivier Thual doesn't appear to be of this point of view, as he dismissed Evian's Khlifa, then waited a full ten minutes after the final whistle to show a red card to Salvatore Sirigu for his part in the melee.

Sirigu was throwing his hands about indiscriminately during the big fight, and it seems his rush of blood will cost him dearly, with L'Equipe et al suggesting he's facing an eight-game ban. This seems a bit harsh to me, but then we live in a world where a gentle bite on the neck is worth a ten-game suspension, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It will be a shame if Sirigu misses the culmination of the season, given that he's been one of our best and most consistent players in the last two years.

Verratti and Beckham, on the other hand, I have little sympathy for. Verratti's mouthiness is well known, and this was bound to happen sooner or later. Ancelotti looked absolutely furious with him as he trotted down the tunnel, and hopefully this will be a lesson to him and he'll learn to reign it in a bit.

I've seen many people on Twitter suggesting Beckham's dismissal was harsh, but a player of his experience should no better than to raise his foot like that. He didn't make contact with Adnane, but regardless the referee was well within his rights to send him on his way. Personally I won't shed many tears if he misses the title celebrations because he's really contributed very little to our impending success.

And that success is very much impending after last night's match, which saw us move to within one victory of the Ligue 1 title thanks to Javier Pastore's well taken goal.

"We did not start with much intensity, but after 20 minutes we controlled the game," said Carletto afterwards. "We scored a fantastic goal with a lot of movement, but we could not find the second and that made Evian confident and gave them hope to equalise. After the red cards for Marco Verratti and David Beckham we lost a bit of control. With a nine point cushion the title is very close."

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Evian vs PSG: Ancelotti plays it cool as PSG seek to quench their title thirst

Despite the best efforts of Paris Saint-Germain's well-oiled PR machine, talk of Carlo Ancelotti's future has still over-shadowed the build-up to today's match at Evian.

As we noted on Wednesday, speculation has increased about the Mister's future this week, with reports on Friday suggesting he has informed the club of his intention to leave for Real Madrid in the summer.

Ancelotti has denied this, but despite the positive spin being furiously applied on the official website, he still came out of his pre-match press conference sounding decidedly uncommitted.

"I love Paris. I love Paris Saint-Germain and the lifestyle here," he said. "The work is going well. The atmosphere is good, but none of that means anything for the future. I have a contract here. No decision will be made before the end of the season.

"There are a lot of rumours at the moment, but as far as I'm concerned, I don't have any news. Like I have already said, I want to finish the championship and win the title. I will wait until the end of the season before discussing it with the club and making a decision. We still have time to decide what will happen.

"It is not true that I ever said I wanted to leave Paris. I've got no update. The media talk about Real Madrid and other clubs, but I haven't spoken to anyone because I am always very clear and honest with my board of directors."

Clarity and honesty are not two of the first words that come to mind when you think of the PSG board of directors, who have undermined Ancelotti on a number of occasions this season. Given some of the treatment he has received you wouldn't blame Carletto for scampering off to the Spanish capital at the first opportunity.

On the other hand, we haven't pulled up too many trees on the pitch this season, so it's debatable whether his departure would be a massive blow. Yes we're top of the league, but this hasn't been a vintage year for Ligue 1, and it's worth noting that PSG's current total of 70 points would have seen us trailing Montpellier at this stage last season. The fact that we have a six point advantage - potentially nine after tonight's match - says more about the standard of the opposition than anything else.

Molding a bunch of expensive individuals into a team isn't an easy job, and it should be noted that Ancelotti has created a side that functions well most of the time, particularly in defence. But we still have a lot of deficiencies, and crucially these don't seem to be being resolved. A coach of Ancelotti's experience and reputation would undoubtedly be a loss, but on the basis of his work in the last 18 months I don't think it would be a loss that would set the project (sorry) back unduly.

If he does leave, it's looking increasingly likely Ancelotti will go as a Ligue 1 winning coach. PSG need six points to clinch the title, and will be hoping to pick up three of those at Evian tonight.

The water boys beat us on penalties in the Coupe de France recently, the latest in a series of underwhelming results PSG have achieved against the league's lesser lights. Evian striker Kevin Bérigaud believes lightning could strike twice.

"The Coupe de France and Ligue 1 are completely different competitions," said Berigaud, showing an admirable grasp of the competition structure in France.

"They are playing for the title and we are fighting for our survival. We need to play well, but nothing is impossible and we can win again."

Aside from Thiago Motta, who is serving his latest suspension, PSG have a full squad to choose from, with Lucas Moura available again after his rib injury. Kick off in Annecy is 8pm English time.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Rumour Mill: Ancelotti's future unclear as AC Milan and Juventus are warned off PSG stars

Like Clash singer Mick Jones, Carlo Ancelotti appears to be caught in two minds: Should I stay or should I go?

Rumours linking the Paris Saint-Germain boss with a switch to Real Madrid have been swirling around for some months, and L’Equipe today says a deal to take the Italian to the Bernabau is “90 per cent done.”

You can see why Ancelotti is undecided: On the one hand he could move to a vastly wealthy club, with huge expectations, temperamental superstar players and complex internal politics. On the other he could stay at an, er, vastly wealthy club, with huge expectations, temperamental superstar players and complex internal politics.

"We want Carlo to stay, but first of all we have to win the league," said Leonardo of his coach. "That's our absolute priority. After that, it will be up to Carlo to decide and to see whether or not he wants to continue at the helm of PSG."

Not exactly a heartfelt bid to keep Carletto is it? I’ve always felt that Ancelotti would be with us next season, but now I’m not so sure.

Anyway, Leo has been busy talking to the press this week, and the gist of his various interviews is EVERYONE IS STAYING HURRAH FOR US. Ok, I’ve paraphrased somewhat, but PSG’s director of football denied reports that he is going to head a summer exodus back to Serie A, along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic (linked with Juventus), Ezequiel Lavezzi (AC Milan) and Marco Verratti (Juventus again).

"I will be staying at PSG, and I've never had any intention of leaving," said Leo. "Ibra will still be with Paris next season, that's quite clear."

A move to Juventus would, according to the Gazetto dello Sport, involve Zlatan taking a massive paycut from €12 to €7million per season. I’m no mathematician, but this doesn’t sound like a great deal to me, though I’m sure with a bit of economising here and there the Ibra family could probably get by. Maybe he’ll have to sell a car or something.

Zlatan himself seems worryingly keen on a move, though this may be because he is traumatised after being snogged by Renato Civelli in Sunday’s match against Nice. If I had an amorous Civelli on my tail I’d probably want to leave the country too.

“I’m tied to Paris Saint-Germain by a contract,” remarked The Swede, sounding like a middle-aged housewife referring to her loveless marriage.

“However, to be wanted by Juventus, if that is true, would be an honour because they are a fantastic club, for whom I have already played.

“Their team is strong and they have a great project. However, I’m here in Paris and I’m thinking about winning the title with PSG.”

Zlatan’s new strike partner/replacement could be Napoli striker Edinson Cavani, who has reportedly agreed terms on a summer switch to the Parc des Princes. However, Leo has poured cold water on this rumour too.

"The Uruguayan is not our goal this summer," said Leo. "You should not expect a sensational transfer market [from PSG] because we already have champions."

Expect to see Cavani turning up at the Parc des Princes in July then.

PSG are certainly going to need at least one striker at this rate, as Kevin Gameiro looks increasingly certain to quit the club. Lyon are the latest club to show an interest in the former Lorient front man, who is understandably disgruntled about spending most of the season with his butt firmly nailed to the substitutes bench.

Monday, 22 April 2013

PSG 3-0 Nice: Goals, non-goals and a gramatically correct ref

So much interesting stuff happened at the Parc des Princes last night that it's hard to know where to begin.

The headline news is that Paris Saint-Germain beat Nice 3-0, meaning a first Ligue 1 title since 1994 is a mere two victories away. Happy days.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was back to his menacing best, and had a foot in all three goals. First he provided the pass to Javier Pastore, who did brilliantly to lob the ball over visiting keeper David Ospina and tee up Jeremy Menez for the opener.

Nice held their own until the second half, when Ospina handed the points to PSG with a cock-up of epic proportions. After controlling a back-pass, he dallied and presented the ball to Lavezzi, before fouling the Argentinean as he tried to make amends. Ospina was sent off, and Ibra drilled in the resulting penalty. Substitute Clement Chantome added gloss to the scoreline when he converted a Zlatan cross.

In between Ibra's pen and the Chantome menace's tap-in, Thiago Silva scored the best non-goal ever in the history of the world. Ever. It's hard to find the words to do it justice, so just watch on and marvel at the awesomeness.

Replays showed that the killjoy linesman's decision to disallow the goal was correct, which probably makes the fact that the ball ended up in the goal an even more amazing achievement.

So a good night for Ibra and Thiago Silva, but not so much for Jezza, who despite his early goal missed a couple of sitters and became embroiled in a row with referee Tony Chapron, the king of Ligue 1's bald ref cartel.

I don't like Chapron very much, but hats off to him for this very French put-down after Jezza had called him a "son of a bitch".

"Start by using the [French] formal form of 'you', and then we'll see," remarked Le Arbiteur as the pair left the field. There's no better way to insult a Frenchman than to target his inappropriate grammar, I'm sure Jezza is poring over his copy of Bescherelle as we speak. Maybe.

Jezza's potty-mouth didn't go down very well with the boss either.

"He took the risk of getting a red card by speaking with the referee," noted Carletto afterwards. "I don't know what he said to him, but it's not a good thing to speak with the referee because he's doing his job and Jeremy has to do his without talking."

Overall the gaffer was happy with the way his team performed, but remains puzzled by our inconsistency. He's not the only one.

"I don't understand how we can be so bad against Evian and so good this evening," said Ancelotti. "We have to improve our consistency. This team has a lot of quality. Of course you can't be happy after a game such as the one at Evian. Tonight's match was important. We've got a nine-point lead again, which means the title is closer. It's easy to be motivated."

Sunday, 21 April 2013

PSG vs Nice: Problems for Puel, Carlo condemns Ibra exit talk

We all have our problems to deal with in life.
I'm currently wrestling with the depressing reality of having turned 30 last week; good bye youth and exuberance, hello baldness and middle-age. Well, hopefully not immediately, especially in the case of the former.

According to wikipedia, Nice coach Claude Puel is 51, yet the former Lyon boss still has a fine head of hair so I guess there's hope for me yet. Puel's problems are not age-related, but more in the injury and suspension department.

Because a host of Les Aiglons' players will be absent when Nice visit the Parc des Princes tonight to take on Paris Saint-Germain. As well as a trio of suspensions, Puel will have to do without 16-year-old sensation Neal Maupay, who ruptured his cruciate ligaments in a reserve game last week.

"We travel to Paris without [the suspended] Valentin Eysseric, Eric Bauthéac and Alexy Bosetti, who can offer us solutions off the bench," rued Puel. "We have six games left and we want to fight for the best possible finish. We all know how good Paris are, but we're not going to start worrying about our opponents now."

Puel does have Dario Cvitanich to call upon, and the Argentinean striker, who was a thorn in PSG's expensive backside when the sides met at the Stade du Ray earlier in the season, will be looking to inspire Nice to a victory which would take them up to fourth in the table.

December's meeting between the sides ended in a 2-1 win for Puel's men, and if PSG perform like they did in Tuesday's disappointing Coupe de France defeat to Evian, there's every chance that result could be repeated.

Mindful that our last defeat to Nice nearly ended in him getting the boot, Carlo Ancelotti plans to recall the A-Team for this evening's match. Sadly this doesn't include Hannibal, Face or Mr T, but does feature the likes of Sirigu, Maxwell and Lavezzi. Thiago Motta is suspended, and Lucas is likely to miss out with rib-knack, so either Menez or Chantome will play on the right of midfield.

Meanwhile Carlo was forced to react to comments from Zlatan Ibrahimovic's busybody interfering super agent Mino Raiola that Ibra might be on his way at the end of the season.

"I have a very good relationship with Ibrahimovic is a player who has really helped the team this season," said Carlo, never afraid to state the bleeding obvious. "I think Ibrahimovic is sure be here next year."

So there you go, that's settled. On his own future, Ancelotti, who has been linked with Real Madrid for a few months now, added that he isn't planning on going anywhere.

"My position is very clear and I feel fine," he said. "We are focused on the league and then we'll have time to do all the other things. 

"Coaching a team here [in France], England or Italy, the problems are the same. You have to deal with tough times or good times, but the work is the same."

Kick-off at the Parc tonight is at 8pm English time.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Evian 1-1 PSG (4-1 pens): Double dreams dashed as poor PSG pay the penalty

Apparently while I was on holiday some team called Paris Saint-Germain came through two matches against Barcelona, and were considered by many observers to be unlucky to lose.

I can only assume this must have been another PSG, as since I've been back the team has looked a long way short of world-beating form.

After squeezing past Troyes on Saturday, they were knocked out of the Coupe de France on penalties last night, going down 4-1 on spot-kicks to Evian after the match had ended 1-1.

"You can lose a game but tonight we didn't show any character," RAGED a FURIOUS Carlo Ancelotti afterwards. "We were a bit full of ourselves and misplaced too many passes, lost the ball too easily. Tonight was a disaster and our worst match of the season.

"The attitude of the team wasn't right. Some players played for themselves and tried difficult things. I'm angry with the whole team. When the team is focused we've managed to play great games, like against Barcelona.

"Evian's attitude was good and they deserve to be in the semi-finals. If your team doesn't show the right attitude then it's the coach's fault."

So many articles have been written about PSG's suspect attitude this season that it could almost be a new sub-section of sporting literature, but sadly the same pattern keeps repeating itself time-and-time again. In some matches an early goal has settled us down, but more often than not the players just take their foot off the gas and expect to be able to stroll through the rest of the game.

That was certainly the case last night after Javier Pastore's stunning tenth minute opener. David Beckham sprayed a lovely pass out wide to Christophe Jallet, who has time and space to pick out Pastore on the edge of the box. El Flaco took a touch to flick the ball up before wellying it past Bertrand Laquait.

So far so good then; but things soon started going downhill faster than Franz Klammer on Pro-Plus. It soon became apparent that Beckham was able to contribute little other than some decent corners and odd long diagonal to Jallet, and with his central midfield partner Thiago Motta not being particularly mobile either, PSG's back-line was left exposed on a number of occasions.

Stand-in stopper Nicolas Douchez saved twice in quick succession after poor passes from Pastore presented chances to Yannick Sagbo and Kevin Berigaud, and the ex-Rennes keeper made an even better save when he somehow diverted Mohamed Rabiu's powerful shot over the cross-bar.

PSG had chances of their own, mainly from Beckham's pinpoint set-pieces. One reached Thiago Silva, but his shot was saved by Laquait's legs, while another found Alex, whose header was blocked inside the six-yard box.

But it was the home side who ended an entertaining half with a deserved equaliser. Another sloppy ball from Pastore put Jallet in trouble, and he was robbed by two Evian players, allowing Sagbo to come away with the ball. His cross found Khlifa in the six-yard box, and he was never likely to miss.

The second half, and indeed the 30 minute extra time period, were quite low key by comparison. Zlatan Ibrahimovic came closest with a bobbling shot that hit the post, and in extra-time substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi had a close range effort turned away by the excellent Laquait.
In fact the most notable thing to happen in extra-time was the sending-off of Motta, who maintained his impressive record of being constantly injured or suspended when he needlessly booted Cedric Barbosa in the stomach and was shown a red card. Evian didn’t have time to take advantage, so to penalties we went.

Zlatan was up first, but struck his effort too close to Laquait, who pulled off a fairly routine save. Then after one of the water boys had slotted home his spot-kick, Thiago Silva strode forward but powered a shot against the cross-bar. Lavezzi converted his penalty, but by then the game was up and Barbosa beat Douchez to confirm Evian’s progress.

And so ended a frustrating night. It should be said that Ancelotti’s team selection didn’t help our cause – pairing Beckham and Motta in midfield was always going to be a recipe for disaster – but even so the players selected were more than capable of seeing off Evian. Our inability to perform when we go away to the league’s lesser lights remains a concern, and sadly Carletto doesn’t seem to be any closer to solving this problem than we was when he took over. The Ligue 1 title is in our grasp, and it’s annoying that we’ve thrown away the chance to make it a double in such pathetic fashion.

Man of the Match: Christophe Jallet – The roving right-back displayed the sort of energy that was conspicuous by its absence in other areas of the team.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Holiday time

In an unfortunate piece of timing, I'm off on holiday today.

This in itself isn't a bad thing; I'm spending two weeks in Sri Lanka, where it will hopefully be hot, sunny and sans niege. The unfortunate part is that I will be away for both legs of Paris Saint-Germain's hotly anticipated Champions League clash with Barcelona. Been trying to work out the time difference in the hope of sneaking to the bar to catch one or both games, but so far it's giving me a headache.

Anyway, here's hoping we don't disgrace ourselves. I'm predicting a narrow PSG win in the first leg, but a comfortable victory for Barca on aggregate. Will be happy to be proved wrong though, here's hoping. ALLEZ PARIS.

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