Ligue 1: PSG show European muscle but stutter in title race

The Parisians shock 4-0 hammering of European giants Barcelona may have shown off their young talent but their failure to capitalise on Monaco’s slips are proving costly domestically.

The French title race continues to fascinate but last week the focus was on the Champions League as PSG beat Barcelona 4-0 in in the first leg of the round of 16. Having been blocked at the quarter-final stage in the last four seasons this hadn’t looked a promising draw for Unai Emery’s men, but they put in a superb display.

It’s fair to say that Barcelona were bad, but also that PSG made it so. Their speed out of the blocks made you wonder if this was more thanks to enthusiasm than efficiency, maybe even the result of panic against such top opposition. But it unnerved Barcelona, who were pushed hard and pressed back, having only one shot on target, while at the other end birthday boys Angel Di Maria and Edinson Cavani both scored. The Argentine grabbed a brace and new recruit Julian Draxler, settling in very nicely, added a third before Cavani finished the Catalans off.

Noticeable was the quality of the PSG youngsters. Thiago Motta was, perhaps fortuitously,  suspended so Adrien Rabiot and Marco Verratti ran the midfield. Thiago Silva was a late drop-out through injury, so Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe lined up in central defence. It wasn’t all forced errors from the Catalans – the wall for Di Maria’s free-kick, Lionel Messi’s failure to recover the ball on Draxler’s goal – but there were a lot.

Back to the league, then, and Monaco and PSG both have six wins and a draw from their last seven games – the draw coming against each other at the Parc des Princes in game 22. For Monaco, that run included crucially beating Nice 3-0 to hold on to the top spot. However, they opened the round with a stutter against struggling Bastia. The Corsicans have traditionally relied on their home stadium being a fortress, but this season have only managed three home wins, the lowest in the league. However they do have seven draws, the latest being a hard-fought 1-1 against the league leaders, causing some aggravation for Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim who was hoping for a smoother run ahead of their meeting with Manchester City in the Champions League this evening.

Also aggravated will be Lucien Favre, as Nice laboured to a 1-0 win at lanterne rouge Lorient. Wylan Cyprien bagged the goal in the 15th minute and Mario Balotelli a red card in the 68th. This lead to some late changes as Favre sought to reorganise. The manager refused to blame his striker for the incident post-match, but did mention that his pre-match instructions include “no reds, no penalties – no stupid fouls”. Another suspension for Balotelli would be a headache, with Alassane Plea out for the rest of the season after a knee injury in last week’s 2-2 draw at Rennes.

This left the field open for PSG to make up ground on Monaco as they hosted Toulouse at the Parc. TFC have hit some scoring form, putting four past both Angers and Bastia in their last two home games, but their away form has been less impressive. However, five changes for PSG knocked some of the intensity out of them; despite 77% possession and 14 shots, a solid set-up from the opposition frustrated them to a goalless draw.

The point was enough to keep them second, but only ahead of Nice on goal difference, and the Parisians will be ruing not taking advantage of Monaco’s slip-up. Their form continues to mirror each other’s. PSG have the week off while Monaco travel to Manchester, but they then play Marseille on Sunday at the Velodrome, in Le Classique. One of Ligue 1’s grands chocs will no doubt want a say in the ongoing title race.

 

Follow Philippa on Twitter at @Philby1976

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