Friday, 26 October 2012

Who can halt the PSG express?

It's been a good week for Paris Saint-Germain.

Saturday's slightly-shaky-but-we'll-take-it-anyway 1-0 victory over Stade de Reims sent us top of the Ligue 1 table, a position in which we remain thanks to erstwhile league leaders Marseille succumbing 1-0 to Troyes on Sunday night.

Then in midweek the team managed to remove a large monkey from their collective back by claiming an away win in Europe at the 11th time of asking, Zlatan and Jezza Menezza finding the net in a 2-0 Champions League triumph over Dynamo Zagreb.

We'll talk about Europe some other time, because this weekend the focus returns to domestic matters, with an away trip to bottom-of-the-table Nancy in prospect.

By half-time in Saturday's game we'll be a quarter of the way through the 2012/13 season, and the table has settled down sufficiently for us to be able to draw some conclusions as to who is going to do what this season.

Much was made of PSG taking over the league leadership last week, with some pundits predicting that they will be occupying top spot for the rest of the season.

Obviously the quality of PSG's expensively-assembled squad means that the landscape is very different now than it has been in previous years, but it should be noted that none of the last five Ligue 1 champions have been top at the quarter-season mark; you have to go back to 2006/07, when eventual title winners Lyon began their campaign with a run of eight wins and a draw.

The stats also tell us that if you're not in the top six by now then you're not going to feature in the title race. In each of the last five years the eventual top two have already established themselves among the leading teams. So sorry to disappoint you Lille and Montpellier fans, but your title chances have already gone the same way as James Blunt's musical career; MHSC supporters probably didn't need me to tell them that though.

Bordeaux's lack of goals would also appear to rule them out of the reckoning, as, according to recent history, any wannabe champions should by now have found the net 12 times or more. Francois Gillot's side have a fine defence, the second best in the division so far, but unless they can make the jump from being a reactive to a pro-active team, it seems unlikely they'll figure in the shake-up.

That leaves us with the top five. It would take a brave man to suggest that either Toulouse or Valenciennes can make a sustained run at the Champions League spots, but victory for the latter in their big derby match with LOSC on Saturday would certainly go some way towards establishing their credentials as surprise contenders for a European place.

So it could be down to the current top-three to contest top spot. On the face of it, the squads of both OL (lack of experience) and OM (lack of depth) have deficiencies which should stop them keeping pace with PSG over the course of a whole season but, as Montpellier showed last year, it can be done. We may have a better of idea of the relative strengths of the challengers after Sunday night's meeting between Marseille and Lyon at the Velodrome.

Friday, 19 October 2012

The Rumour Mill: Chelsea defender reports resurface as Carlo courts Roma midfielder

De Rossi does his famous "levitating football" party trick

The absence of club football over the last couple of weeks has left unimaginative journalists and bloggers with a lot of time on their hands and a lot of space to fill.

This usually results in Paris Saint-Germain being linked with at least one disgruntled player from either AC Milan or Chelsea. A lot of the rules from PSG window bingo can be applied in international breaks too, cards and markers at the ready.

The wearyingly predictable story this week concerned a possible January swoop of the FA's favourite left-back, Chelsea's soon-to-be-out-of-contract Ashley Cole: "Paris Saint-Germain will attempt to see off competition from both Manchester clubs and Real Madrid by offering Ashley Cole a £150,000-a-week three-year deal worth £23million", reported the Daily Mail. As ever where the Mail is concerned, there are no quotes or any kind of evidence to back this story up.

Although Ancelotti has gone on record with his admiration for Cole, Leonardo has swooped in to pour a big bucket of cold water on the idea that we might take the 31-year-old off the Blues' hands: "Besides Lucas, nothing is done and there are no discussions with any player, either for January or next season," he told Le Parisien. So that should keep the papers quiet, at least for a couple of weeks.

Perhaps more interesting is our interest in AS Roma's Daniele De Rossi. The midfielder has fallen out with his gaffer, the mercurial Zdenek Zemen, and is reportedly interesting PSG and Manchester City.

"I think De Rossi and is a great player, I was surprised by the fact that he did not play, but I think it was only a temporary decision," Carletto told Radio Montecarlo, before raising a seductive eye-brow in the 29-year-old's direction.

"He's a great midfielder, it is normal to be approached by PSG as we are one of the few clubs that can spend big money in the market, but the market is closed. At least he can talk [to PSG] in January." 

President Nasser added: “It’s true, we like De Rossi. He is certainly a great player, but we don’t negotiate through the media."

Perish the thought, it's not like we did that with Beckham. Or Pato. And Nasser definitely didn't express any interest in Ronaldo last month, oh no. A fee of around €25million would probably be required were we to follow up our interest in January.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Clément Chantôme

Five Paris Saint-Germain players are currently with the France squad preparing for matches against Japan and Spain.

The inclusion of Christophe Jallet, Mamadou Sakho, Blaise Matuidi, Jeremy Menez and Clément Chantôme means PSG are the single team which currently provides the most players for Les Bleus, one in the eye for the doom-mongers who claimed the QSI’s take-over of the club would see home-grown players sidelined in favour of foreign talent.

All five have been regulars in Carlo Ancelotti’s starting line-up this season, and it is the presence of Chantôme, who received his first call-up when he was drafted in as a late replacement for the injured Lassana Diarra, that is most pleasing from my perspective.

Like most PSG fans, I love a bit of Chantôme (in a totally non-gay sense, obviously), and was sad to see his progress stall last year due to a combination of injuries and the new arrivals.

This year it’s been a completely different story, and the 25-year-old already has five league starts under his belt, having formed a formidable midfield triumvirate with Matuidi and Marco Verratti.

"For your first time with the national team, it's always better to be surrounded by guys who you see daily. I also knew several players from the Under-21 team, so I didn't feel lost when I arrived," said Chantôme, who is apparently enjoying his time with the national team.

"I've only had two training sessions, and only one really with the squad. It's difficult to judge and compare with PSG, but I would say it's more or less the same. Ninety per cent of the squad at PSG are internationals, and it's about the same standard at training."

"It's a nice reward for me to have been called up. I'm here now to show my quality, and hopefully get some minutes on the pitch.”

Fingers crossed on that front. He’ll be among the substitutes for tonight’s game against Japan.
It could have been a very different story, as we were told on several occasions in the summer that CC was close to leaving the Parc-des-Princes. Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas conducted a very public – and slightly pathetic – courtship of the midfielder, but PSG decided not to sell and the player wasn’t about to force the issue.

"I had a difficult choice to make,” he said. “There was a club which really wanted me. I had a discussion with Carlo Ancelotti, who told me that he was really counting on me. I think that he's shown that since the start of the season."

Ancelotti has always stressed the need for a core of French players in the side, in the same way his Milan and Chelsea teams were built on Italian and English foundations respectively, and I think he deserves credit for managing to keep Chantôme on-side.

At 25, Clement should be coming into the prime of footballing life, and appears to be ready to make good on the promise he has showed since making his debut as a 19-year-old. Let’s hope he continues to get a chance to do just that at the Parc-des-Princes, and that he can fulfil his fabulous (footballing) destiny with PSG.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Marseille 2-2 PSG, or Gignac 2-2 Zlatan

There's something very wrong about mentioning Andre-Pierre Gignac in the same breath as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic; It's akin to compiling a list of the world's greatest rockbands and naming S Club Seven alongside The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Clash.

But S Club, I mean Gignac, joined the much-vaunted trio by netting twice last night as Paris Saint-Germain fought out at 2-2 draw with Marseille at the Stade Velodrome.

It was a particularly unimpressive display from PSG, which brought to mind our lifeless, sleep-walking performance in this fixture last season, which saw OM triumph 3-0. What's changed? Well quite simply we have better players; Zlatan produced two moments of absolute quality to put us in front against the run of play, and at the back Thiago Silva and Alex did a reasonable job of keeping the home side at arm's length.

Apart from this, the same old problem which has dogged PSG for the last year remains, namely that when we're playing badly there doesn't seem to be any connection between the different departments of the team. Verratti and Pastore both carry out an important roles in this respect; they are the ones we rely to link things up, but neither was really at the races last night, and as a result we struggled to retain the ball or get any tempo into our play.

Marseille on the other hand looked really fired up for the match, and when the league leaders hit the front in the 18th minute. Ayew's ball found Gignac in the right channel, and he bamboozled Christophe Jallet before firing in a low shot which went through the PSG skipper's legs and low past the unsighted Salvatore Sirigu. I spend a lot of time mocking Gignac, but fair play to him, that was a decent goal. 1-0.

Back came PSG, and we were level in four minutes thanks to Ibra. Maxwell swung in a corner from the left, and Zlatan got ahead of Nicolas Nkolou to flick in an awesome volley with the outside of his big left boot. Taekwondo-tastic, 1-1.

Two minutes later the game was turned on it's head. PSG won a free kick a good 30 yards from goal, and up stepped Ibrahimovic to curl a shot over the wall and low into the corner. Steeve Mandanda in the OM goal might feel he should've done a bit better, but it was a pinpoint from Zlatan, 1-2.

Alas, Marseille restored parity seven minutes later as the game continued to swing from end-to-end. It was another left-wing corner which produced their second, with Gignac finding space to nod past Sirigu and into the bottom corner, 2-2.

Pastore then missed a great chance to put us back in front, guiding the ball wide of the post from Jeremy Menez's cut-back. El Flaco must've known then that his number was up, and indeed he was replaced at half-time by Kevin Gameiro, with Jezza dropping into a deeper role behind the strikers.

Gameiro almost made an immediate impact, getting in behind the defence onto Menez's through ball but flashing a shot into the side-netting. Ibrahimovic volleyed a half-chance over the bar, but other than that there was very little in the way of goal-mouth action as the second half petered out to an anti-climatic finish.

It didn't help that PSG ended the game with six defenders on the pitch, Jallet and Maxwell taking wide midfield positions to protect substitutes Gregory van der Wiel and Sylvain Armand. You can't blame Ancelotti for being happy with a draw, and indeed I'd have taken a point if offered before the match. But we need to be careful that the malaise which affected us at the start of the season doesn't creep back into our play - perhaps the international break has come at just the right time in that respect.

Man of the Match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Two world class goals from the big man.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

OM vs PSG: Some reading material ahead of Le Classique

Olympique de Marseille versus Paris Saint-Germain is always a big match, but with the sides sitting first and second in the Ligue 1 table respectively, tonight's encounter is larger than Nicola Zigic standing on Peter Crouch's shoulders.

Plenty has already been written about tonight's match, so instead of adding more verbage to the mix, here's a selection of the best Classique interviews and previews the interweb has to offer.

For live updates on the game tonight, don't forget to follow PSG Tourist on Twitter.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Porto 1-0 PSG: Varela and Co. derail the PSG express

When it comes to European away matches, Paris Saint-Germain are about as reliable as the bidding process for the West Coast mainline rail franchise.

Last night's 1-0 defeat in Portugal certainly derailed any thoughts that we'll just steam through the group as winners, and it will be up to the team to get back on track in their next match, away to Zagreb on October 24. Choo choo.

If ever a scoreline didn't tell the whole story, it was the outcome of the match at the Estadio do Dragao. PSG were battered from start to finish, and only survived 82 minutes without conceding a goal thanks to a combination of brilliant goalkeeping from Salvatore Sirigu and poor finishing of Emile Heskey proportions from the hosts.

Carlo made several changes again, and though it's easy to be wise after the event I think he got the line-up wrong. My main bone of contention was his decision to start Nene ahead of Pastore. While I can see the logic behind it - we were always going to be counter-attacking and Nene's pace and dribbling ability are often helpful in those situations - we lacked someone to link up play. Verratti and the other midfielders had their hands full on defensive duty, and as a result the front three looked a bit isolated.

Porto's Silvestre Varela, who enjoyed an outstanding match, set the tone for the game by roasting Greg van der Wiel twice in the opening five minutes. The Dutchman endured a torrid time until the point he was replaced by Christophe Jallet, who fared little better. It was a bad night for full-backs all round, as Maxwell was often found wanting against James Rodriguez, and had to be bailed out by Mamadou Sakho and Thiago Silva on a number of occasions.

Rodriguez headed at Sirigu in the second minute, then fired wide when he really should have hit the target in the fourth. Jackson Martinez headed over from close range, and Sirigu had to be alert to make a flying save from Joao Moutinho's free kick.

PSG had a couple of chances of their own, and both fell to birthday-boy Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His 12th minute header from Nene's flighted cross went wide of the post, and then, after being released by Jezza Menezza, he went for a spectacular flick which was palmed over the bar by the back-peddling goalkeeper Helton. Not a good start to the big Swede's fourth decade on this earth.

The Porto onslaught continued after the break, with Sakho sliding in brilliantly to foil Varela, before the same player burst clear of the back-line only to be denied by Sirigu.

Ezequiel Lavezzi joined the action as a substitute in the 76th minute, but only lasted seven minutes before being withdrawn with a thigh injury. The Argentinean threw his toys out of the pram big-style on his way off the pitch, booting a massive box of ice in frustration.

His frustrations won't have been helped when Porto scored a minute later. Moutinho's cross was flicked on by Martinez to Rodriguez, who guided a delicious curling volley beyond the reach of Sirigu to settle matters.

PSG can have no complaints about the result, but probably shouldn't get too down-hearted. Getting anything in Porto was always going to be difficult, and there were some positive performances to reflect on, from the centre-backs, Blaise Matuidi, and the ever-impressive Sirigu. Attentions will now turn to Sunday's big match in Marseille. Woof.

Man of the Match: Salvatore Sirigu - Did his best to keep Porto at bay, but could do nothing about Rodriguez's winner.

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