Monday, 28 November 2011

Olympique Marseille 3-0 PSG: Derby despair

Highlights - OM 3-0 PSG

The PSG players have been in for extra training this morning. “This session is closed to the public” reports the official club site gravely.

It was probably a good move for the squad’s protection to keep the fans out, though I would have been interested to know what exactly they were practicing. On the basis of last night’s game they could do with brushing up on a few things: tackling, passing, shooting, little details like that.

As you can probably gather, last night’s Clasico was more disastrous than Jeremy Menez’s latest trip to the barbers. Fair play to Marseille, who bossed the match from start to finish and were superior in every department from the moment Loic Remy hung in the air to nod in Cesar Azpilicueta’s long cross from the right in the fourth minute.

Pundits always bang on about the importance of an early goal, and on this occasion it certainly seemed to boost the home side’s confidence, while PSG retreated into their shell. The magic square seems to have exhausted it’s supply of magic, with Pastore in particularly rancid form, misplacing passes all over the show. The closest we came to a goal was a low scudder from Momo Sissoko which rattled against the bottom of the post.

Antoine Kombouare must’ve been delighted to see Leonardo make and appearance in the dressing room at half-time, and regardless of what was said, and by whom, it had little effect. There seemed to be no plan as to how we might get back into the game in the second half. There was no tempo, no cohesion, and precious little passion. I usually stick up for AK but on this occasion I feel he has to take some blame for what was, after all, a collective failure to perform.

In fact the only fighting spirit we saw after the break came from Mamadou Sahko, who got involved in a bit of handbags with the Ayew brothers, and from Gameiro when he and Pastore were substituted. The former Lorient man booted the dug-out in frustration as he exited the field.

Withdrawing his underperforming stars was an eye-catching gamble from the boss, but
unfortunately it didn’t pay off as OM got the crucial second a minute later. Matuidi surrendered possession meekly in midfield, allowing Morgan Amalfitano to seize on the loose ball and sprint forward before aiming a precise angled drive across Sirigu and into the far corner of the net.

The excellent Kaba Diawara made a great tackle to deflect sub Melvut Erding’s goalbound effort behind for a corner, but PSG did little to deserve a route back into the match, and Andre Ayew’s header deflected header, which trickled over the line in the 85th minute, was a fitting finale on a night which belonged to Les Phocéens.

Man of the Match: Er, I’ll get back to you on that one.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Know your enemy: Olympique Marseille

PSG's good start to the season has perhaps been made all the more sweet by the struggle of our rivals from the south.

After winning the title in 2010, and finishing runners up in 2011, Champions League qualification in 2012 is going to be a big ask for Didier Deschamps' Marseille. Ahead of tonight's Clasico at the Stade Veledrome (9pm), they languish in tenth in the Ligue 1 table, 15 points behind PSG and a hefty 10 behind third-placed Lille, albeit with a game in hand.

To make matters worse, a 1-0 midweek defeat to Olympiacos means OM now face a winner takes all clash with Borussia Dortmund to decide who progresses to the knock-out stage.

The possible reasons for Marseille's poor form this season are myriad, and explored nicely in this excellent article by @OMarseilleUK, and the pressure on Deschamps' water-carrying shoulders was increased this week after a row with striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, who threw his toys out of the pram after being named as substitute for the Olympiacos match. Deschamps subsequently dropped the forward from the squad all together.

"What happened happened," Deschamps told France Football. "A decision was made, and I'm not interested in the future of Andre-Pierre Gignac.

"What interests me is Sunday's game (...) the group works to prepare for the big game ahead. We must be sure to have the answer because OM-PSG games always have a special flavor.

"We know our position in the league, and we find that Paris is one of the favorites for the title in terms of potential and position. There are all the ingredients for a great match and it will be up to us to get a result.

"It is also an important game with what it means for the city and the fans. This is not an ordinary match."

No pressure then. Personally I'm a bit gutted Gignac isn't in contention, as I've never rated the ex-Toulouse man. But it will be interesting to see whether, in his absence, the rest of the players get behind Deschamps or whether divisions have been created and/or widened in the squad.

What is for certain is that Marseille's passionate supporters will expect their side to get on the front foot, and that could play into PSG's hands if they leave space for Nene, Pastore, and the returning Jezza Menezza to counter-attack. On the other hand, Loic Remy and co probably fancy their chances of breaching our dodgy defence, and the pressure is on PSG to regain top spot in the league after Montpellier's win yesterday saw them hit the summit.

The midfield battle could be crucial too. OM's Alou Diarra is due a big game, but he and Benoit Cheyrou are likely to have their work cut out if, as expected, Antoine Kombouare pairs Momo Sissoko with Blaise Matuidi in the engine room. The winners of this physical confrontation could also find themselves taking home the points.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Player profile: Salvatore Sirigu

Name: Salvatore Sirigu
DOB: January 12 1987
Former clubs: Palermo, Cremonese (loan), Ancona (loan)
Signed: July 2011, €3.5million
International honours: Full Italian international

This is the first PSGT player profile, so perhaps it’s fitting that it concerns the club’s number one.

Technically Salvatore Sirigu wears the number 30 shirt, but since his summer arrival the Italian has firmly established himself as PSG’s first choice stopper.

Sirigu was born in Sardinia, but moved to a slightly less classy island (sorry Mafioso, but it’s true) to further his footballing career, joining Sicilian side Palermo as a youngster.

Though he made his debut in November 2006 against Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia, Sirigu’s first prolonged taste of first team action came on loan at Cremonese in Serie C1. Landing there for the whole of 2007/08 there, he made 21 appearances and conceded 19 goals.

The next season was also spent as a loan ranger, this time at Serie B outfit Ancona. Sirigu struggled to dislodge Brazilian stopper Da Costa, and turned out just 15 times for the Biancorossi.

Back at Palermo for 2009/10, Sirigu must have been sick of the site of Brazilian keepers, as he started the season second choice behind another samba star, Rubinho. I use the term “star” loosely there, as Rubinho was a bit pants, and Sirigu was drafted in by manager Walter Zenga (who ought to know a good keeper when he sees one) for the match against Lazio.

Although Palermo only managed a 1-1 draw, 22-year-old Sirigu was named man of the match: “I was very happy to have put in a good performance, because it was my first match in Serie A,” he said afterwards. “I am a young and my job is to work hard without expecting too much.”

Level-headed and good looking (see above for photographic evidence), what a man. He kept his place for the next match, against Juventus, keeping a clean sheet as Palermo won 2-0 against the Old Lady, and never looked back.

By then Sirigu was already an established member of the Italy under-21 side, and got his first call up to the full Azzuri squad for the first time in February 2010 for the match against Cameroon.

He was named in the 28-man provisional squad for that year’s World Cup, but didn’t make the final cut, and eventually made his debut in August 2010 against Cote D’Ivoire. Since then he’s only been able to add one more cap, with the likes of Gigi Buffon ahead of him in the pecking order. Buffon, though, thinks Sirigu has what it takes to succeed him in the Italy goal.

“I must say that Sirigu has shown he is a serene keeper with some excellent qualities,” he said, before adding modestly: “In effect he is like me from a physical point of view.”

After two years between the sticks for Palermo, this summer came the move to the Parc des Princes for a bargain price of €3.5million. With good height and presence in the box, Sirigu's main strength is his superb refleces, and he has already had ample opportunity to demonstrate these behind an ever-changing and rarely-solid PSG back four. Long may his impressive form continue.

Parisiens derailed by Nancy boys

Not AK's funeral, although I'm sure he'd be happy to meet the masked lady

Sorry for the lack of blog activity recently. I’ve been hampered by a lack of internet access (thanks Plusnet), which has only just been resolved.

The Ligue One season got back up and running this weekend, and PSG hit an unexpected bump in the road when they were beaten 1-0 by Nancy at the Parc yesterday. Jean Calve scored the only goal as Jean Fernandez’s side secured their first away win of the season.

For under-pressure boss Antoine Kombouare it was a result which was about as welcome as a Sepp Blatter appearance at the MOBO awards. I say “under-pressure boss” because this is the ridiculous situation we’re in now, whereby every slightly dodgy result sparks speculation about his future.

“Kombouare could jump (go) at any time, and a second loss in a row, especially in the symbolic Velodrome, could look like his funeral march,” notes the grave Parisien today.

Indeed, the symbolic Veldrome is where PSG head next weekend for Le Classico against the dastardly Marseille, who also lost 1-0 at the weekend to second-placed Montpellier.

A derby is hardly the match you want after a couple of dodgy results, but Leonardo insists AK is here to stay. Sort of.

“We have total confidence in Antoine Kombouaré, and we continue to have that, even if there are things to be improved,” said the Brazilian.

“We hope for a good match at Marseille next week but this defeat changes nothing. It's only Week 14 and we still have a lot left to accomplish.”


Friday, 11 November 2011

PSG stars go international

With no Ligue 1 action this weekend, they’ll be plenty of people with some extra free time on their hands.

Personally I plan to spend my days looking at pictures of cats in sinks, but if international football is more your thing, then check out the PSG players who are in action for their respective countries.

France have a match tonight against the USA (8pm), before hosting Belgium on Tuesday (8pm). Mamadou Sakho, Jeremy Menez, and Kevin Gameiro will all be hoping to get some pitch time for Laurent Blanc’s team.

The Italy squad features Salvatore Sirigu, who will probably be performing bench-warming duties in their friendlies with Poland (Today) and Uruguay (Tuesday). In Tuesday’s match he’ll probably come face to face with Diego Lugano, who is also taking his lovely hair back to Uruguay to lead the Copa America champions in their qualifier with Chile (today, 8pm).

Javier Pastore was at Euro Disney this week, but there’s nothing Micky mouse about Argentina’s games this weekend, as they have World Cup qualifiers against Bolivia (today, 5pm) and Columbia (Tuesday, 4pm) to contend with.

El Flaco could start tonight’s match as Sergio Aguero is struggling with an injury, but otherwise will probably have to settle for a place on the bench.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Ancelotti rumours not poppy-cock

No doubt what the week’s number one football story has been: Poppies have been everywhere, and I’m not talking about Kettering Town.

COMMON SENSE HAS PREVAILED seems to be the mantra of the day after FIFA relented and decided to allow England to wear black armbands with poppies on during their friendly with Spain to mark Remembrance Day.

Without wishing to seem disrespectful, I think common sense went out the window several days ago, and some of the behaviour of our public figures (hello David Cameron) has been beyond parody. But there we go, at least now everyone is happy, including the EDL.

It’s not clear whether or not Carlo Ancelotti was wearing a poppy during his two day visit to Paris, but what is obvious is that his trip to the capital can’t be good news for incumbent coach Antoine Kombouare.

“Ancelotti met Leonardo, the sporting director of PSG, who he rubbed shoulders with at AC Milan, and Nasser al-Khelaifi, the chairman of the board,” said today’s Parisien and every other French paper with a vague interest in football.

“The three men laid the foundation for a future collaboration aiming to make the 52-year-old Italian the new PSG coach next season.”

Apparently AK didn’t help his cause with a slightly bristly response al-Khelaifi’s declaration that the season will be a failure if we don’t win the title. Apologies if this is a poor translation, but I think the jist is right:

“There is no problem, these are the words of the president,” said the coach. “I stick to my line and he knows that [...] Let us not forget that the original target was the Champions League. For the Championship, there are plenty of factors to take into account.”

I like Kombouare and think the way he has handled himself since the takeover has been spot-on. He’s generally kept his head down, forged a functioning, if slightly disjointed, team from players he didn’t necessarily pick, and managed to get them to the top of the league.

But you kind of get the feeling that QSI are just waiting for an excuse to get shot of him, and that the good run in the league is just delaying the inevitable. If the aim of the project is to become one of the top teams in Europe, then they will need a coach with a suitable profile, and Ancelotti probably fits the bill.

Let’s just hope that if the end is nigh for AK, that the club deal with things in a professional manner and we don’t have to endure a trickle of rumours and leaked stories for the rest of this season.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Bordeaux 1-1 PSG: Momo on the go-go as attackers falter

“After a thunderous start, Ligue 1 is running out of steam,” declared France Football today, describing the latest round of matches as “boring”.

On the basis of last night’s 1-1 draw between Bordeaux and PSG, it’s difficult to argue too much. Les Rouges-et-Bleu’s attacking quartet failed to sparkle, and it was left to Momo Sissoko of all people to head us in front in the tenth minute before Yoan Gouffran grabbed an equaliser for the Girondins three minutes later.

Bordeaux had the better chances to take all three points, and it took some good saves from Salvatore Sirigu to preserve our unbeaten run.

I may have mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of Sissoko, but the Malian yellow-card machine is beginning to show signs of some decent form, having apparently played quite in Thursday’s win over Bratislava.

“The goal was certainly to take the three points, especially as the results of our competitors gave us the opportunity to take off,” said Sissoko afterwards.

“But ultimately we did well. Don’t forget that we remain first, which mentally is very important.”

That’s true enough I suppose, and I think most supporters would have taken this position if offered it at the start of the season. Certainly I’m happy with how things have been going on the whole.

But it would have been nice to go into the international break five points clear at the top, and I think last night’s result is indicative of the team’s immaturity. After all the other challengers dropped points, the pressure was on PSG to deliver and they didn’t quite manage it, whereas you would expect seasoned title winners such as Manchester United to turn the screw on their rivals by grinding out a win.

That kind of winning mentality will only come with time, and for now Antoine Kombouare will be hoping his globe-trotting squad members return from international duty unscathed.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Rivals falter as PSG target rare Bordeaux win

One of my few visits to the Parc was for a match between PSG and Bordeaux at the end of 2009/10

PSG won 3-1 that day, defeating a Laurent Blanc-managed side who were in the final throws of their stint as league champions, and whose line-up contained the likes of Yoaan Gourcuff and Marouane Chamakh

"I don't really trust statistics," said AK, ever the killjoy. "Bordeaux's record is two wins, six draws and four defeats and they have yet to win at home. That will obviously happen at some point and I hope that is doesn't happen on Sunday evening."

Amen to that, and it's lucky Kombouare is a stat-sceptic as PSG's record in Bordeaux does not make for pretty reading, with just one win there in the last 21 encounters at the Stage Cheban Delmas. But with Lille having dropped points at home to Evian last night, a victory tonight would give us an eight-point advantage over the Champions. At the time of writing second-place Montpellier are 1-0 down to St Etienne, allez Les Verts!

Aside from long-term absentee Guillerme Hoarau, the only missing player for tonight's match is Chantome, who is likely to be on the sidelines for three weeks with a thigh strain.

Elsewhere club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi gave a very interesting interview to L'Equipe this week. After re-assuring fans that we won't be leaving the Parc-des-Princes for the Stade de France on a permanent basis (PSG will be playing at the Stade in 2012/13 while the Parc is renovated) talk inevitably turned to a former England captain

"David Beckham transcends sport. He's an ambassador, a brand, he's an example to others," said Al-Khelafi.

Hard to argue with any of that, but:

"He's also a very good footballer whose age poses no problems," he continued. "PSG is interested in all big players and Beckham is of course one of these."

It's going to happen isn't it...

Friday, 4 November 2011

PSG 1-0 Slovan Bratislava: Nobody does it better than El Flaco

I love James Bond films, but can't really get excited about the announcement yesterday of 007's latest outing, Skyfall.

Firstly because the last Bond, Quantum of Solice, was a confusing, plot-less, mess, and secondly Skyfall is a terrible title - it sounds like a new model of Japanese car: The Suzuki Skyfall, coming to a forecourt near you.

The Spy Who Loved Me (with Roger Moore, above) is my favourite Bond movie, and PSG's 1-0 win over Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League brought to mind the wonderful theme song by Carly Simon. Because nobody does it better for the PSG than Javier Pastore, who netted the only goal of the game with a back-post volley from Nene's cross.

"Against Montpellier I scored the same type of goal," said the ever-modest Argentinean, who celebrated by revealing a wrist-band sporting the letter H, apparently a tribute to former club Huracan. "Nene was able to find me and I was lucky that the ball went between the legs of the goalkeeper."

Performance-wise it wasn't the best night for either Pastore or the team as a whole, as AKs boys struggled to break down a resolute Bratislava side. They were mostly restricted to shots from distance, though Diego Lugano was perhaps slightly unlucky to have a goal ruled out for offside.

PSG now know a draw in their next match, away to Salzburg, would be enough to see them into the knock-out phase following Bilbao's 1-0 victory ove the Austrian outfit last night in the group's other match.

Meanwhile, David Beckham's future remains up in the air: "The only thing I can say to the French is that I'm still a player of the Los Angeles Galaxy," he quipped helpfully following LA Galaxy's 2-2 win over Thierry Henry's New York Red Bulls. Zzzzz. A more interesting transfer rumour is the renewed link to Sochaux's Ryad Boudebouz, though whether we need another attacking midfielder is debatable. Lyon are also reportedly keen on a January move for the 21-year-old.

Laurent Blanc's France squad for the friendlys against Belgium and the USA includes PSG trio Sakho, Menez, and Gameiro, which is nice for them. The matches are played on November 11 and 15 respectively.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

PSG brothers prepare for Slovan Bratislava clash

The Waughs. The Charltons. The, er, Nevilles. Siblings in sport are commonplace, and apparently a new pair has popped up in Paris recently.

"Tonight there will again be more than 30,000 spectators at the Parc des Princes. But to see which PSG?” muses today’s Parisien. “The one bursting with health, flying in the championship? Or it’s twin that remains on two defeats and a draw in the cups (Europa League and the Coupe de Ligue)?”

It’s fair to say that the contrast between the PSG’s record breaking, six-wins-in-a-row, league form and their patchy cup record is a stark one, but I think that only highlights what an early stage the Qatari “project” is at. AK has been rotating like a crazed spinning top this season, and at the moment we don’t have the strength in depth to cope with that and not suffer a dip in performance as a result.

By the looks of things we will be fielding a strong-looking attacking line-up in tonight’s Europa League clash with Slovan Bratislava, with Menez, Pastore, and Nene all set to start, while Gameiro could get the nod over Erding, who has been an ever-present in the European competition so far this season. Tiene and Chantome are suspended after their indescretions in Slovakia, while Milan Bisevac could be available as he continues his recovery from injury.

Bratislava, currently fourth in the Slovak league, are bossed by Vladimir Weiss, who is also manager of the Slovakian national team.

"It will be hard there,” he said. “They'll be playing at home and they have to win if they want to progress in the competition. We are going there to learn but we'll try to put on a good performance.

"Obviously, the hosts will put us under a lot of pressure because they have great quality. But it should be a good game, and in football you never know.”

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