In one of the most competitive Ligue 1 seasons of the past few years, recent focus has shifted to European football. The knockout stages are now in full flow – and there have been some real knockout games in those fixtures, highlights Philippa Booth.
In the Champions League, PSG arguably had their most impressive performance under Unai Emery as they beat Barcelona 4-0 at the Parc des Princes. However, having shot out of the blocks early in the first leg to force their opponents to panic, they then allowed the Catalan giants the same opportunity in the return leg. Going a goal down after three minutes was awkward, sure, but should not have resulted in the abject capitulation that followed. Twice.
In addition to PSG’s first leg advantage, when Edinson Cavani scored to make it 3-1 just after the hour mark, Barcelona needed to live up to Luis Enrique’s pre-match statement that “if they scored four, we can score six”. But how that eventually happened, with Barca wrenching any idea of control from PSG from the 88th minute on, was astonishing. Having stalled at the quarter-final stage of the Champions League in the past four seasons, the Parisians broke down entirely a round earlier.
In the Europa League, Lyon followed up an 11-2 aggregate win over AZ Alkmaar in the round of 32 with a slightly more nervy – but ultimately more impressive- 5-4 win over Roma in the round of 16. Centre-back Mouctar Diakhaby was one of the heroes, scoring in both legs, but Anthony Lopes deserves many, many plaudits as OL held off a Roman fightback in the second leg.
This looked to set up a great Classique on Sunday, with PSG shell-shocked and Lyon resurgent. However, PSG had already had a match against Lorient to recover, and Lyon looked tired after their efforts in Rome. While Alexandre Lacazette, almost inevitably, opened the scoring, PSG started to purr – Adrien Rabiot equalised, Julian Draxler put them ahead. PSG may have crashed out of Europe, but they’re still chasing Monaco for the league.
In the other Champions League shift, Monaco were involved in one of the most enjoyably chaotic of the first legs, losing 5-3 away at Manchester City. In the home leg, they also took an all-out attack approach, this time leaving City spinning around in their wake. Although the joy Leroy Sane was having even in the first half against Djibril Sidibe suggested this would not all be plain sailing.
Kylian Mbappe and Fabinho had the home side ahead at half-time, but Monaco were again missing a first-choice centre-back (Jemerson was suspended for the first leg, Kamil Glik for the second). It fell to Andrea Raggi to put in the tackles and keep the visitors at bay – it was only after he finally limped off at 70 minutes that Sane was able to get one back, as a visibly tiring Monaco looked to be in trouble. However, thanks to Tiemoue Bakayoko and a stubborn effort late on to keep City corralled, the league leaders won 3-1, setting up a quarter-final clash with Borussia Dortmund that should, again, have ‘goals’ written all over it.
Monaco are still in four competitions, and a convincing 3-0 win over Caen keeps them three points clear at the top of the table. Mbappe continued his wonderful form with a brace, also won a penalty, and has earned a call-up to the France squad. Joining him are Benjamin Mendy, Bakayoko, Sidibe and Thomas Lemar, so the international break may not be much of a rest for Monaco’s young stars. When they come back, it’s another tough test – facing PSG in the Coupe de la Ligue final.
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