Friday, 30 August 2013

PSG vs EA Guingamp: Three points the bear necessity for Zlatan, Maxwell and Co

“Maxwell is the best guy in the world. I mean if you want to have a teddy bear you have Maxwell.”

As befits an author who has been nominated for Sweden’s top literary award, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a way with words.

Ibra was in particularly dazzling aural form this week, telling all about his friendship with Maxwell. The pair have played together at Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona and now PSG, and their relationship stems back to the days when Ibra was shy retiring teenager in Holland.

"I called Maxwell because Maxwell came to Ajax at the same time as me, so he picked me up at the airport and I got to know him a little bit more," explained Zlatan.

"After two weeks I called Maxwell, I said 'I have problems'. And he was like 'ok', because Maxwell is the best guy in the world. I mean if you want to have a teddy bear you have Maxwell. And I called him I said 'listen, I don't have food at home, I need help'. He said 'come to my place'.

“He put me on the floor with a mattress to sleep, and I was like sleeping in his house for two weeks, I was hanging with him, eating food and driving to training together, and then after one month the first salary came and it became easier for me."

What a heart warming tale of fraternal love. Except the teddy bear part. In fact, the thought of Maxwell as a furry little critter that Zlats cuddles when he’s feeling lonely at night makes me feel a little bit ill. And what would a Maxwell teddy bear look like anyway? Hmm.
Most observers would expect Saturday’s match against Guingamp to be something of a teddy bear’s picnic for PSG. But buoyed by their 2-0 win over Lorient last weekend, Jocelyn Gourvennec’s side will fancy their chances of causing an upset.

 "The match will be very difficult but it's easy to prepare the squad for such games as the players are exceptionally motivated,” said Gourvennec. “It's a huge challenge at the Parc des Princes against world-class players.

“That said I think Paris Saint-Germain are the team that's under the most pressure of any team in the world what with the pressure from the media and the fans."

Last Sunday’s 2-0 win over Nantes removed one burden from boss Laurent Blanc’s shoulders, but with the first win in the bag the task now is to build a run of victories.

Blanc must choose whether to stick with the 4-3-3 system he employed in the Nantes game, or return to the 4-4-2 shape that served us well last season.

“Will we see the 4-3-3 again like we did against Nantes? Why not, I rule nothing out,” said Blanc helpfully in his pre-match press conference, before enlightening us on his thoughts about Javier Pastore, who was part of the midfield three at the Stade de la Beaujoire.

“Pastore, he’s a number 10. We will not play him as a defensive midfielder.”

Given that Pastore’s place in the team seems to be nailed-on, I wonder if we’ll see him up top against Guingamp, positioned alongside Ibra behind Cavani. If so, Ezequiel Lavezzi could make way after an unimpressive showing against Nantes – winning goal aside – with Marco Verratti coming into midfield.

We have no new injury worries, and the good news is that Jeremy Menez is back in training and will be available for selection after the international break. Even if we don’t buy anyone else before the transfer window closes, having Jezza back in the squad will be like a new signing. Well, for me anyway.

Yesterday’s Champions League draw saw PSG handed a favourable outcome for a second year running, as they were grouped with Benfica, Olympiakos and Anderlecht.

Obviously there are no easy games in the Champions League etc and so on, but having avoided the big-guns, no doubt the squad will be confident of their chances of progressing to the last 16.

Kick off in the Guingamp match is at 4pm GMT tomorrow.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Rumour Mill: Cabaye saga rumbles on, Liverpool and Roma in Sakho chase

The current transfer window seems to be moving at the pace of a glacier; you know it’s going somewhere, but it’s impossible to see any progress and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

Gareth Bale to Real Madrid? Wayne Rooney to Chelsea?Yohan Cabaye to Arsenal? These transfers have been threatening to happen for some weeks, but seem to be hovering somewhere in the distance like very expensive mirages.

Paris Saint-Germain have invested in a few expensive mirages over the last couple of years, so it’s probably not a surprise to see the club’s name linked to all and sundry as we approach September 2.

Chief among the possible inbound transfers is Newcastle midfielder Cabaye, a player Laurent Blanc has been making kissy faces at all summer long. Sadly for Blanc, he has yet to get past first base with the former Lille skipper as others in the club’s hierarchy are less keen to push ahead with the transfer.

“He is a great player and I know Laurent Blanc likes him,” said president Nasser, like an over-protective parent stepping in between two teenage lovers.

“But we have not made any offers on it at Newcastle. Anything can still happen between now and September 2 .”

Technically it’s true that anything could happen, but I doubt it will. I can’t shake the feeling that Newcastle are bigging up PSG’s interest in the player in order to extract as much money as possible from Arsenal’s war chest. We shall see.

In terms of other incomings, Le Parisien says PSG are “supervising” Ajax right-back Ricardo Van Rhijn. Supervising must mean something different in French, as I doubt we are making him his dinner and checking he turns up for training on time.

Reports in Spain yesterday had linked us with a €40million offer for Barcelona forward Pedro, but this seems to have been denied by everybody involved.

Mamadou Sakho’s future remains uncertain. The want-away defender was left out of the squad all-together for Sunday’s match at Nantes, meaning he was forced to sit in the stands wearing giant headphones and a baseball cap that obscured most of his head. Poor chap.

Anyway, Liverpool remain Sakho’s destination of choice, but Brendan Rogers and Co are not keen on meeting the €15million asking price. AC Milan could enter the race if they secure Champions League qualification against PSV Eindhoven tonight. Roma are interested too, but would like a season-long loan deal with an option to buy. It’s all very confusing.

From PSG’s point of view, the club seem to still be labouring under the misapprehension that they can convince Sakho to stay, despite the fact the player is clearly itching to get away.

"He is a child of the club, like Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, it's hard to imagine him wearing another club's jersey,” said President Nasser. "I'm a little surprised that he wants to go; I had a discussion with him and my position is very clear and he knows it. We want to keep him and will do anything to do so.”

Everything apart from pick him ahead of the clearly over-the-hill Alex that is. Don't remember Liverpool ever dropping Gerrard for Jordan Henderson.

Definitely sur le depart is Momo Sissoko. Having rejected Cardiff for financial reasons, Momo’s agent has apparently been busy convincing Everton that their midfield is lacking a lumbering liability with a knack of picking up red cards. If that fails, there is some interest from Turkish clubs to fall back on.

Mathieu Bodmer is also looking abroad for more money a new challenge after turning down domestic approaches from Bordeaux, Nice and Rennes.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Nantes 1-2 PSG: Lavezzi's precious strike gives Blanc welcome three points

It wasn't particularly pretty, but PSG's season is up and running properly after last night's 2-1 win in Nantes.

Last season it took us four matches to secure a first victory, so in that respect Laurent Blanc is making better progress than his predecessor Carlo Ancelotti.

"I hope it's the first of a long winning run otherwise I'll be packing my bags before I've had chance to redecorate my office," said Blanc afterwards.
"It was a tough result to get, but it's one that is more than precious to us. I thought we could have had an easier match. The beginning of our season has been complicated, and even getting a win has been complicated."

Things didn't look particularly complicated for about half an hour. Lining up in a new-fangled 4-3-3 formation, with Pastore dropping into central midfield alongside Motta and Matuidi, PSG dominated proceedings early on.

Though chances were at a premium, we kept the ball well, and Zlatan had an effort blocked by the body of Canaris keeper Remy Riou. The possession eventually told in the 24th minute; Pastore found Ibra, and his swift turn and inch-perfect pass set Cavani clear down the right channel. El Matador took a couple of touches before dispatching an expert low finish across Riou for his second goal in two games. 

So far so good, but the goal seemed to spur Nantes into life. Boss Michel Der Zakarian switched his side's system from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3, matching PSG man-for-man, and for a 30-minute spell either side of half-time the home side were well on top.

Salvatore Sirigu saved well from Vincent Basset and Cichero before half-time, but was powerless to stop the 53rd minute equaliser. A free kick wide on the Nantes left was whipped into the back post, and the ball bounced off the ample thigh of Alex and into the net for an own-goal.

At this point the home side looked the more likely winners, with PSG struggling to keep hold of the ball for any length of time, and Zlatan cutting an increasingly frustrated figure up front. Indeed it took a flying save from Sirigu to prevent Bedoya's looping header finding the top corner, as the fanatical, noisy, home crowd sensed an upset.

But then Nantes seemed to run out of steam, and PSG, pepped up by the introduction of Lucas and Verratti, found a second wind. The previously quiet Ezequiel Lavezzi gave notice of what was to come with a powerful run down the left, and with 17 minutes remaining El Pocho made the break-through.

A slick passing move down the left saw the ball fed inside to Ibra, who flicked a first time pass round the corner for Blaise Matuidi to run on to. His low ball across the six-yard box was missed completely by Cavani, but ran to Lucas at the back post. Though his shot was cleared off the line, Lavezzi was on hand to ram in the rebound.

Overall it's difficult to take too much from the game other than the points. The 4-3-3 set-up worked to a point, but it was worrying how easily we lost control of the game to a team newly promoted from Ligue 2. Similarly, the Zlavani partnership showed some really promising signs in the first half, but in the second period the two were on completely different wavelengths, to the extent that they got in each other's way on a couple of occasions. 

With another of the new-boys, Guingamp, next up at the Parc des Princes on Saturday, Blanc will be hoping his team can start to build some momentum and close the four point gap that already exists between ourselves and Marseille.

Man of the Match: Salvatore Sirigu - On a night where most of PSG's outfield players put in stuttering performances, Sirigu's brilliant goalkeeping kept his side in it. I really don't like his new hair cut though.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Nantes vs PSG: Can Parisiens pounce on first win of the season?

Watching Paris Saint-Germain take on Ligue 1's smaller teams often reminds me of my cat (left) when he's hunting a spider.

You know that the cat, with his massive size and speed advantage, will usually prevail. What's more, the cat is well aware of his own superiority, and is often happy to toy with his pray before administering the killer blow. But every now and again something goes wrong; Pamplemousse (yes, my cat is called Grapefruit) gets bored, or does something stupid, or the spider spots a way out and escapes to safety.

Last Sunday the Ajaccio spider's survival instincts meant it left the Parce des Princes with all it's legs intact. And a hard-earned point. Laurent Blanc will be hoping his PSG side can rediscover their killer instinct when they go in search of a first league win of the season at newly-promoted Nantes.

"I don't know this Nantes team very well. But I am expecting a very similar match to the one against Ajaccio. Their team will be giving it 200 per cent," said Thiago Motta, who obviously won't be embarking on a career as a mathematician when he retires from football.

Perhaps feeling he hadn't patronised the Les Canaris enough, Motta continued: "Perhaps they will defend a little less than Ajaccio because they are playing at home in front of their fans. We will have to be careful to avoid getting hit on the counterattack and conceding the opening goal, because when you are trailing on the scoreboard, your opponents can just sit back and wait for you to come."

Like Motta I won't pretend to have seen a massive amount of Nantes, who won promotion from Ligue 2 last season by finishing third behind Monaco and Guingamp. Back in the top flight after a four year absence, they won their first game back, 2-0 against Bastia, but were beaten last time out by Lorient. Filip Djordjevic, who scored 20 goals last season and netted against Bastia, is their main threat. Probably.

Unfortunately for Nantes, they may lose the points obtained against Bastia as they stand accused of fielding a player who was carrying a suspension. You can read a bit about this incident, and the club's resurgence under current boss Michel Der Zakarian - a former Montpellier team-mate of Blanc's - in this excellent article by Canaris fan Simon Scutt on French Football Weekly

For PSG, Blanc will not be able to call on Clement Chantome, who has joined Toulouse on loan for the season and made his debut in Friday night's 0-0 draw with Monaco. Blaise Matuidi is a doubt after picking up a cut to the head against Ajaccio, but he trained normally yesterday at Clairefontaine and a decision will be made later about whether he can start. Marco Verratti stands by to deputise. One other change could see Lucas drop to the bench, with Ezequiel Lavezzi starting on the right flank.

Kick off at the sold-out Stade de la Beaujoire is at 8pm English time.

Monday, 19 August 2013

PSG 1-1 Ajaccio: Cavani leaves it late to beat amazing Ochoa

Football and hyperbole tend to go hand-in-hand, witness the resumption of the GREATEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD this weekend.

But while Sky Sports were busy drumming up EXCITEMENT about AMAZING MATCHES like, er, Chelsea strolling to victory against Hull and Spurs edging out Crystal Palace, Ligue 1 fans were treated to one of the most entertaining games of football you're likely to see this year. And I'm not exaggerating.

Ajaccio clung on for a point against Paris Saint-Germain last night at the Parc des Princes with a logic-defying rear-guard action involving some great last-ditch defending, some phenomenal goalkeeping from Guillermo Ochoa and, it has to be said, more than a little bit of luck.

"Even if we didn't start well nobody can say that was played poorly in the first half," said Laurent Blanc, who must have been fearing for his job until Edinson Cavani smashes in a late leveller.

"Teams try to make the most of our slow starts to games because they've noticed our difficulties in getting going. The second half was more encouraging. We were hoping not to fall too far behind our main rivals and this match was really disappointing because we deserved to win it."

Even the most die-hard of Marseille fans would struggle to disagree with Blanc's assessment. Rarely have I seen such a one-sided contest between two teams in the same league; PSG had 80 per cent of the ball, completed 690 passes to their opponents 135, and fired in 36 shots to Ajaccio's one.

Lies, lies and damn statistics (Pic: @der_footix)
But if you're only going to have one shot, you might as well make it a good one, and Benoit Pedretti's ninth minute effort was certainly that, a curling effort from 20 yards that beat Salvatore Sirigu and nestled in the top corner.

To say that Fabrizio Ravinelli's side parked the bus after that would be an understatement. It would be more accurate to say that they hijacked the entire fleet of RATP vehicles that serve the Paris area and lined them up side-by-side in the goalmouth. And when Ibra, Cavani and co did find a way to weave between the phalanx of vehicles, in Ochoa they faced a goalkeeper in the form of his life.

The Mexican relishes the big occasion, having kept two clean sheets against PSG last season, but in the first half was only forced into one save of note, a diving effort to block a shot from Maxwell. That's not to say PSG weren't creating chances, with Ibra shooting just wide after some lovely chest control to set up the chance, and then planting a header over the bar from eight yards. Ex-Wolves man Ronald Zubar almost shinned in an amusing own-goal, but saw the ball spin wide of the post.

We functioned fairly well as an attacking unit, with Thiago Motta having one of his best games for ages, Lucas looking lively and Big Bad Blaise Matuidi providing his usual dose of energy in the centre. There were also signs that the Zlavani partnership, paired up front for the first time, will be a fruitful one, with several promising link-ups stopped by a well-timed tackle or a border-line offside call.

So 0-1 at half-time, but plenty of reasons for the PSG fans to be cheerful. It was after the break that shit got really weird.

Cavani headed over from a Lucas cross, then saw a powerful shot parried away by Ochoa. From the resulting corner, Alex's header was cleared off the line, then Thiago Silva got involved, arriving at the back post to meet a free kick but seeing his goalbound header stopped by Ochoa's foot.

With nothing to do at the back, Silva spent most of the second half playing as an auxiliary midfielder. This was particularly welcome after Matuidi was forced to leave the field with blood pouring from his head following a nasty looking clash with a defender. Get well soon BBBlaise.

Anyway, Ibra saw another effort blocked by the speedy Ochoa, who raced off his line as the Swede looked set to pounce, while Christophe Jallet found space in the box but pulled a shot tamely wide. When Silva finally beat Ochoa, with a header from a corner, it came crashing back off the cross-bar. Merde.

The break-through finally came with four minutes remaining. Substitute Hervin Ongenda picked out Cavani on the edge of the area, and he made a bit of space for himself before dispatching a powerful shot into the top corner. Bienvenue El Matador, 1-1.

But with the crowd sensing there was time for a winner, PSG were unable to apply the coup des grace. Another sub, Marco Verratti, had three chances fall his way, but was denied twice by Ochoa and shot wide with what was the last kick of the game. Silva's thunderous effort came back off the bar, and the third replacement, Ezequiel Lavezzi, saw penalty appeals waved away after he went down under Bonnart's shove.

So 1-1 it finished, meaning PSG have just two points on the board from their opening two matches. But despite this, and the perfect starts made by OM, OL, Monaco and Saint Etienne, it's not time to hit the panic-button just yet. Results like this happen from time-to-time, we need to take the positives and move on to next Sunday evening's match against newly promoted Nantes.

Man of the Match: Thiago Motta: Obviously Ochoa was the game's outstanding player, but from a PSG perspective Motta kept us ticking over with some probing passes.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

PSG vs Ajaccio: Corsicans coming to church of Zlatan

Footballers buy a lot of stuff: Armani manbags, oversized headphones, cars with aquariums in them, that sort of thing.

Never one to fit the mould, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has decided to reinvest some of his hard-earned cash in a slightly different way, and has reportedly purchased a church.

According to Afobladat, Ibra has snapped up the 115-year-old Elimkyrkan building in Stockholm, and plans to convert it into a New York-style townhouse. This is somewhat disappointing, as I was hoping he would turn it into a centre for his followers to gather in. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would appreciate a place where they could hang out, practice their Taekwondo skills and worship a massive statue of Zlatan’s nose.

While the Church of Ibra may not be quite ready to threaten the major world religions just yet, the man himself was in god-like form this week as he bagged a hat-trick in Sweden’s 4-2 friendly win over Norway.

Now back in France following the completely pointless midweek round of international friendlies, Paris Saint-Germain fans will be praying the big Swede can that kind of form into Sunday’s clash with Ajaccio at the Parc des Princes.

Will Ibra be sharing the lime-light with new signing Edinson Cavani? Laurent Blanc was being coy about the prospect of seeing the partnership I’m calling Zlavani in tandem for the first time against the Corsicans.

"The real question is: Will [Cavani] start the match?”, said Blanc, who obviously fancies a career as a journalist if this football management lark doesn’t work out.

He continued by, er, answering his own question. Not a good journalistic technique: “We will make a decision on that. He is another player who is a little behind in his preparations and has had a few little physical problems. We have worked very well with him this week, but we still have time before making a final decision."

Reports suggest Ezequiel Lavezzi will make way for his erstwhile Napoli team-mate, while Thiago Motta is enjoying a rare period free of injury or suspension, and could come into side at the expense of Marco Verratti.

Blanc also used his Friday press conference to confirm the sad-but-not-very-surprising-actually news that Mamadou Sakho wants to leave the club: “It is true that Mamadou expressed his desire to find [another] solution”, said Blanc. “The situation will continue to develop until September 2, and there will be time to find a solution that suits both parties.”

Poor old Sakho, if I was behind the ponderous Alex in the pecking order I’d be a bit miffed as well. Liverpool and AC Milan are reportedly keen, while Monaco’s quest to BUY ALL THE PLAYERS will mean they’ll probably be interested too.

Sakho is unlikely to be involved in the match against Ajaccio, who lost their opening game of the season 1-0 to Saint Etienne. With PSG having drawn their opening match, 1-1 at Montpellier last Friday, Blanc’s men will be hoping to find the winning habit against the Corsicans, who held us to a goalless draw in the second match of last season.

Ajaccio are now bossed by Fabrizio Ravinelli. One of the more random managerial appointments of the summer, the White Feather is in his first managerial post and will have his work cut out steering his new side away from the relegation zone.

He can still call on the rather marvellous goalkeeping talents of former PSG target Guillermo Ochoa, while the other big-name in the squad is Adrian Mutu, the Romanian striker who you may recall pledged to outscore Zlatan last season. The final score: Zlatan 30 – 11 Mutu.

"Everyone knows that PSG are better than us on paper, with better players than ours. Everyone expects PSG to win, but I think that it won't be so easy for them,” said Mutu. “We'll play the game with the confidence of a team that wants to get a result. If we have the opportunity to win, we'll do so."

Sunday’s match at the Parc des Princes kicks off at 8pm English time.

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