Monday, 31 October 2011

PSG march on as Eden Hazard prepares to march off

(Not my holiday destination)

You may have noticed a lack of activity on this blog in the last week. For once this isn’t down to my laziness, but because I have been en vacance. And very nice it was too, apart from a small delay in getting back (thanks Eurotunnel).

The hurly-burly world of Ligue 1 allows no time for holidays of course, and in my absence the PSG have been busy strengthening their position at the top of the table.

First they proved they can cut the mustard (sorry, but it had to be done) by beating Dijon 2-0 last Sunday. They declined to do so again in a Coupe de Ligue tie played on Wednesday night, which DFCO won 3-2, but got back to winning ways with a comfortable-ish 4-2 victory over Caen on Saturday, making it a club record six consecutive league wins.

“I expected a tough game against a good side, and that is what happened,” Antoine Kombouare said matter-a-factly afterwards. Bloody smart-ass.

“When you have the extra man, it is never easy,” he continued. “I must emphasis how good we were in the second half.”

Indeed, AK’s side played against ten-men for most of the game, and with that in mind perhaps should have won a bit more comfortably than they did. But two penalties for Nene – who now has four goals in two league games – and strikes from Menez and Pastore got the job done.

The manager was probably less happy with his side’s defence, which was absent without leave when Caen scored twice from corners. Sloppy defending at set-pieces has accounted for a lot of the goals PSG have conceded this season, and as I’ve mentioned on here before, the constant chopping and changing of the back-line can’t help. It’s about time AK picked a back four and stuck to it for a few matches, injuries and suspensions permitting of course.

Elsewhere Eden Hazard has put Premier League clubs on red-alert by announcing that, quelle surprise, he’ll be leaving Lille soon. But unfortunately LOSC's Belgian wizard probably won’t be pitching up at the Parc.

"Paris is not for now,” he told L’Equipe. “Paris is magical, of course it attracts me. But for now I do not want to go to a rival club of Lille.”

Not the most categorical brush-off I've ever heard, and it will be interesting to see whether he maintains his position should a large pile of Qatari cash be plonked in front of him. Hazard goes on to say that he'll make a decision at the end of the season, stay tuned folks.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Slovan Bratislava 0-0 PSG: Digging deep as red mist descends

A ban on a group of naughty travelling supporters, and a subsequent boycott by the other, non-naughty travelling supporters meant there was very little Parisien presence in Slovakia last night as PSG ground out a 0-0 stale-mate with Slovan Bratislava in their latest Europa League Group F fixture.

Those not present missed a match which turned from two points dropped to a point gained in the blink of a second-half eye, with Clement Chantome and Siaka Tiene sent off in quick succession, meaning Antoine Kombouare's side were reduced to nine men for the last ten minutes but showed good presence of mind to dig in and hold on for a draw.

PSG had squandered several good chances to go in front, while at the other end Nicholas Douchez, making his customary Europa League appearance, was only called into action a couple of times, even after the red cards.

"It's just a point," said non-plussed guardien Shower at the end of the match. "In the end we may be relieved to have got a draw buton the whole we should have pocketed three points. It's a game we should have won easily."

Indeed, it's one I had us down to win, and the result puts a little bit of pressure on the last three matches. With two home fixtures to come we *should* still be able to make it through, but three points in the return clash against Bratislava in a couple of weeks is vital if we're to progress to the knock-out stage.

Monday, 17 October 2011

AC Ajaccio 1-3 PSG - Gameiro goals gaul-ling for Corsicans

Whenever I think of Corsica I think of weird little Mediterranean people eating wild boar, which in turn makes me think of Asterix the Gaul.

So I was a little disappointed to tune in to yesterday’s match at the Stade Francois Coty and discover that none of the Ajaccio supporters – or indeed players – resembled Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, or any other members of the gang.

In fact the only man who might have looked at home in an Goscinny and Uderzo comic strip was Kevin Gameiro, who appeared to have been supping on some magic potion before the game. The striker notched a hat-trick as PSG claimed a victory which takes them three points clear at the top of the table.

AK had to shuffle his expensively assembled pack, with Lugano, Menez, and Matuidi suspended and Mamadou Sakho, Christophe Jallet and Momo Sissoko taking their places. Jallet made a good impact on the right of midfield, showing good energy and, as you would expect, doing a lot more tracking back than you’d get from Menez. The other two weren’t quite so assured, with a Sakho and centre back partner Zoumana Camara enduring a few nervous moments, and Sissoko once again showing that, for a defensive midfielder, he’s pretty rubbish at tackling. While I can afford him some leeway given that he’s been out injured for a while, for me he’s still by far the least impressive of the summer signings.

PSG had the lift of an early goal, Ajaccio failing to deal with a corner from the right, and Armand’s flick falling perfectly to the unmarked Gameiro, who swept the ball home at the back post.

If anyone thought this might be the cue for the league leaders to light up the cigars and stroll to a comfortable win against struggling opposition, a) they haven’t watched PSG this season, and b) they were in for a rude awakening. Although Jallet saw a shot cleared off the line, and Nene drew a good save from Guillermo Ochoa, Ajaccio levelled when poor defending from a free kick allowed Carl Medjani time and space to control the ball inside the box and slot home. Merde.

Javier Pastore had to this point been a peripheral figure, but El Flaco showed his class with a lovely defence-splitter that put Gameiro in the clear, only for his angled shot to be saved at full stretch by Ochoa.

Prior to that the ex-Lorient forward had blazed a shot over the crossbar after Clement Chantome’s drive had rebounded off the keeper into his path. He was not in such profligate mood after half-time however, and put PSG back in front with another poachers effort five minutes after the restart. Jallet’s high cross looped over to the back post, where Sissoko nodded the ball back across and Gameiro swivelled to score from inside the six yard box.

Two minutes later he was at it again, this time Jallet and Chantome combined to present him with a simple chance to complete his hat-trick and take his tally for the season to eight.

So yeah, PSG were far from their fluent best, but did enough to win and despite a few wobbles created a lot more in the final third than the hosts, which is kind of what you would expect given the two clubs respective resources. The best thing to come out of the match for me was that Pastore wasn’t directly involved in any of the three goals, we need to be able to grind out victories even when he’s having an off-day, otherwise the “one-man team” tag is going to stick.

Man of the Match: Kevin Gameiro – the archetypal renard dans la boîte

Friday, 14 October 2011

Back in the old routine

Like England's rugby World Cup campaign, the international break has finally, thankfully, been put out of it's misery.

The French footballers weren't quite as potent as their egg-shaped counterparts, but got the job done and booked their place at Euro 2012 thanks to an edgy 1-1 draw with Bosnia on Tuesday. A summer of expectation followed by crushing disappointment and stroppiness awaits.

Jezza Menezza and Kevin Gameiro both featured for Les Bleus, and came through unscathed despite Menez going into the game with a slight injury. The former Roma winger won't be playing for the PSG on Sunday though, as he is suspended after picking up three yellow cards.

"After the international break, the squad is approaching the game in serene fashion," said Menez.

"We're top of the league, we can't afford to put ourselves under pressure and we have to build on our performances of recent weeks. Unfortunately I won't be there but my heart will be with my team-mates."

Isn't that sweet. Unfortunately Jez isn't the only one who will be missing, with Lugano and Matuidi also suspended. You may remember that Matuidi is injured anyway, and we're unlikely to see him again for another five weeks or so.

Talented Mexican keeper, and one time PSG target, Guillermo Ochoa aside, Ajaccio are pretty rubbish, but with so many players out I've got a bad feeling about this match. Bisevac is still injured, so Mamadou Sakho is poised for an immediate return after an appearance for the reserves last Saturday. It's good to have the skipper back of course, but he wasn't up to much before he got injury, and so far this season defensive change hasn't been a recipe for success. But I'm sure we'll be fine. Maybe.

Meanwhile, a quick update on BECKHAMWATCH. Apparently he and Vicky have been apartment-hunting in the French capital, and are on the look out for a triplex. Makes sense, they're probably one of the few couples who can afford more than a broom cupboard in Paris. According to Le Parisien, negotiations are ongoing and the former England skipper could sign an 18-month contract, joining the squad after the winter break. Someone pass the razor-blades.

Monday, 3 October 2011

PSG 2-0 Lyon: Pastore bosses OL

Highlights: PSG go 3 points clear at top of Ligue 1 thanks to 2-0 win over Lyon

As temperatures soared across Europe, PSG turned up the heat on the other title contenders with a 2-0 victory over Lyon in last night’s big match.

“Last Sunday it was asked: who is the boss? This Sunday evening, the boss is Paris,” declared L’Equipe as goals from Javier Pastore (standard) and Christophe Jallet (er, not standard) put the Parisiens three points clear at the top. Hopefully we're more Bruce Springsteen than David Brent.

Pastore’s goal was a fine finish, but one which owed much to Lyon keeper Hugo Lloris leaving a helpful gap at his near post for El Flaco exploit. And after Bafé Gomis had missed the kind of chance he’d usually put away in his sleep, Jallet popped up at the far post in the second period to convert Nene’s floated free kick. Scorchio.

It was Pastore’s fifth goal of an increasingly productive season, but speaking afterwards keeper Salvatore Sirigu insisted that we’re most definitely not a one-man team.

“PSG isn't just about Pastore, that would be unfair,” said Sirigu. “Javier put the effort in just as everybody else did. He's a top player, but he is surrounded by quality players. When everybody's at 100 per cent then things will become easier for PSG.”

Much as I hope this is true, the evidence so far indicates the contrary. The team were pretty dire at the start of the season before Pastore got involved, and he was decidedly off-colour on Thursday when we lost 2-0 in Bilbao.

On the other hand, the team does seem to be slowly gelling, and it will be interesting to see whether they can cope if the Argentinean is sidelined for any significant length of time.

For now the Ligue 1 season takes a break as yet another round of international fixtures kick in. Fingers crossed the players make it back from far-flung destinations across the world in one piece.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

PSG versus OL: The key match-ups

The PSG lost 2-0 in Spain on Thursday, Athletico Bilbao comprehensively outplaying a mix and match Parisien team in the latest Europa League group match.

A trademark silly lunge from Momo Sissoko which earned the midfielder a red card on his full debut didn’t help matters, and AK was philosophical afterwards.

“We had almost forgotten what it was like to lose and how much we hate defeats,” said the gaffer.

“So now I expect a reaction from my players. Today, all the lights were red. And this will allow us to be more focused, more attentive and have a spirit of revenge.”

Red lights? Spirit of revenge? Woof. Said spirit will be put to the test tonight when Lyon visit the Parc (9pm BST). With the teams level on points, and indeed goal difference, at the top of the table, the match will be a good chance for one of the teams to put a maker down on the title race. Here we look at a few of the individual battles that could swing the match.

Diego Lugano v Bafetimbi Gomis
Big Bafe’ has enjoyed something of a renaissance this season having previously struggled to recreate his St Etienne form for OL. The striker is back in the France squad after netting six goals this season, and will give Lugano plenty to think about. The Uruguayan didn’t have his best game in Bilbao, and will be looking to put that right.

Javier Pastore v Maxime Gonalons
What can be said about El Flaco that hasn’t been said before? Well, quite a lot probably, but even so it’s fair to say that the €42million playmaker has hit the ground at a gallop, with two goals and five assists to his name already in the league since his summer arrival. Keeping him quiet will in part be the responsibility of Lyon’s deep-lying central midfielder Maxime Gonalons, who could be in for a busy evening.

Jeremy Menez v Aly Cissohko
Lyon’s highly-rated left-back was heavily linked with a move away from the Stade Gerland in the summer, with Liverpool, Newcastle, and Juventus all reportedly interested in one-cap French international. He’ll be up against Jeremy Menez on the PSG right, and the former Roma man’s searing pace is bound to put him to the test. Menez hasn’t been the most impressive of the PSG summer signings, but has made several telling contributions already this term.

Salvatore Sirigu v Hugo Lloris
Two of Ligue 1’s best keepers will be on show tonight, and if one of them has a blinder it could be decisive. Ex-Palermo stopper Sirigu has already showcased his top-drawer reactions with several classy saves since arriving at the Parc in the summer, while Lloris (pictured above) is back between the sticks for OL after missing their last match through suspension, and will be eager to make up for lost time.

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