Paris Saint-Germain have a lot of problems to overcome ahead of Chelsea clash
It was “an extraordinary scenario”, as Laurent Blanc put it after the game or, according to L’Equipe, a “catastrophic” one. As Paris Saint-Germain enter one of the pivotal weeks of their season, matters that seemed in hand give the increasing impression of slipping from their grasp.
A routine win over Caen at the Parc des Princes on Saturday was within touching distance as PSG entered the 89th minute 2-0 up, but a pair of late strikes by Emiliano Sala and Hervé Bazile meant Blanc’s team passed up the chance to go top of the table for the second time in less than a week.
If that is factually correct, it perhaps feels like an uncharitable description given the team’s efforts in Lyon last Sunday. It appeared as if PSG’s season had turned with last weekend’s top-of-the-table clash at Stade Gerland.
Granted, they couldn’t quite turn their domination (66% of possession, 14 shots to Lyon’s 7, 19 tackles to the home side’s 13) into a win, but there was an authority in their play that they have lacked for most of the season. It gave one the feeling that after a lethargic campaign so far, they were clicking into gear ahead of the Champions League tie with Chelsea, with a general raising of standards both essential and overdue
Certainly after the magnitude of that clash with the leaders, the visit of Patrice Garande’s side was expected to be a formality, even if they have been Ligue 1’s form team of 2015 to date – and remain so after this result, having taken 13 points since the resumption after the winter break.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sublime second-minute strike should have set the tone, but this was eventually a match defined by injuries, rather than any goalmouth action. Four starters suffered knocks – two after Blanc had completed his full complement of substitutions – meaning PSG played the final ten minutes of the game with just nine players, putting their inability to hold onto the lead into at least some sort of perspective.
The losses of right-back Serge Aurier – who created the opener for Ibrahimovic – and Yohan Cabaye are unwelcome, but Blanc will be more perturbed by being unable to call upon a key pair from his preferred XI when José Mourinho’s team arrive.
Lucas Moura’s absence will be keenly felt against Chelsea, even if a high-spec replacement is available in the shape of Ezequiel Lavezzi. The 22-year-old tops the ratings table of PSG’s squad this season with 7.53, and he has begun to fulfil the titanic expectations of him in his third year at the club. With Ibrahimovic’s attempts at reproducing his best fettered by injury, the winger has been PSG’s standout player in this campaign.
Lucas has already almost doubled his best goal tally in Ligue 1, with 7 in 20 starts (his previous high was 4), speaking volumes for his directness, though his assists total of 3 lags behind last season’s final number of 10. He also knows how to shine in the Champions League, rating 7.80 in the group stage. His pace and ability to dribble infield, as well as down the line, would have tested the Premier League leaders’ defence.
His fellow Brazilian Marquinhos will also be a big miss. Still only 20, the Brazilian has been compared favourably with Chelsea’s own Branislav Ivanovic in France over recent weeks, as a rugged central defender converted into a right-back of pleasing rigour. Even if we cannot be sure just yet if Marquinhos’ positional switch will be a long-term one, his presence would have been something to watch closely in the first leg of the tie, with the likelihood that he would have been placed into a direct duel with Eden Hazard.
For all the tagging of ‘the new Ivanovic’, the face-off would have perhaps better recalled Jerome Boateng playing at right-back opposite Cristiano Ronaldo in Germany’s World Cup opener with Portugal – a more specialist defender against an outstanding attacking talent, rather than the all-rounder that a modern full-back often tends to be.
Marquinhos wins 2.7 aerials per game, compared to probable replacement Gregory van der Wiel’s 0.8 – not strictly important when it comes to facing Hazard, perhaps, but indicative of his stronger defensive qualities. The younger man also makes 2.2 interceptions per match, compared to the Dutchman’s 1.9. Marquinhos also commits only half as many fouls as van der Wiel (0.5 to 1.0).
Lyon’s Sunday night draw at Lorient may have limited the domestic damage but even with PSG’s enviable resources, there are clouds gathering ahead.
The news that Ibrahimovic will face the LFP’s disciplinary committee on February 19th means he will miss the trip to face Monaco on March 1st – his ban for accumulated bookings had been postponed pending the hearing – and given the miserly defensive record of Leonardo Jardim’s side (the joint best in Ligue 1, with 19 conceded), it is clear that the Swede would have been more useful than ever in prising open the door in the Principality.
“We’ve already been in difficulty like this,” Blanc underlined after Saturday’s game, “before the home match against Barcelona this season (PSG won 3-2 in September). We knew how to overcome it, so we’ve already done it.” It’s big talk, with a tie to come that could define his whole tenure at the Parc des Princes. Given the circumstances, he has little other option.