Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille wins keep pressure on Lyon
Wins for both of France’s deadliest rivals on Friday and Saturday helped to reignite the Ligue 1 title race this weekend, as PSG and OM moved within two points of the current league leaders Olympique Lyonnais. In the weekend’s first encounter, Paris Saint-Germain won their third game in a row against Stade Rennais at the Parc des Princes with a one-nil victory.
On Saturday afternoon, OM entertained Évian Thonon Gaillard in a game in which they were red-hot favourites to win, but in the end just one goal separated the two sides, with the one-nil victory helping extend Marseille’s unbeaten run at home to twelve games.
Friday’s game at the Parc des Princes saw a Rennes side that hadn’t won a Ligue 1 match in seven games travel to the capital to take on a PSG side that appeared to be finding their feet again at a crucial stage in the season’s calendar, as Laurent Blanc’s side’s two previous consecutive victories had seen the champions go level on points with Marseille.
The home side began the game without first choice right-back Gregory Van der Wiel through injury and his usual stand-in Serge Aurier through AFCON duty, so Brazilian international Marquinhos was drafted into the starting line-up as a more than desirable replacement choice.
Thiago Motta was also unavailable for the match through suspension and Blanc decided to start with a midfield trio of Adrien Rabiot, Yohan Cabaye and Javier Pastore, with Ézéquiel Lavezzi, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Edinson Cavani all spearheading the PSG attack.
PSG’s unbeaten record on the west side of the city this season remained intact at kick-off, but Rennes would have been hoping to gain confidence from the fact that they managed to pull off shocks against their hosts on their two previous visits to the Parc des Princes.
Rennes have also developed a reputation at times this season for being a side that can be hard to break down, as they usually play with a flat-back four and with industrious midfielders like Gelson Fernandes and star talent Adoulaye Doucouré in front of the defensive line, however it took just twenty-nine minutes for PSG to break down the Breton wall that lay in front of them.
With what has to be one of the moves of the season, the home side opened the scoring with a superb team goal. Ibrahimović played a short pass to Lucas Digne from a free-kick on the left-hand side of the park and the French international left-back then returned the favour to his Swedish teammate.
Zlatan then linked up beautifully with Javier Pastore before the ball then made its way to Rabiot. The nineteen-year-old, who has to be one of the game’s most exciting youth talents, then found Pastore again and his flick-on was fired home from close range past Rennes’ stopper Benoît Costil. It was quite simply a superb goal, and one that is sure to be remembered beyond the end of this season.
After a first-half in which Rennes rarely left their own half, the score remained one-nil, thanks mainly to robust Rennais defending. In the second forty-five, PSG continued to push for more goals, but they were unable to put the ball past a goalkeeper in extremely fine form.
Costil made a brilliant save midway through the second-half from a Cavani shot, to prevent the Uruguayan from scoring a very composed curled effort from just inside the box. As the game became a bit more stretched, Salvatore Sirigu was forced into action to block a shot from Christian Brüls, but the Italian stood strong and pushed the ball away to safety.
The game finished with the score remaining at one-nil, with the result in truth flattering the away side.
It appears that PSG have put their pre-Christmas woes behind them, as they continue to increase their string of positive results. Friday’s win, combined with Tuesday’s Coupe de la Ligue semi-final win against Lille has once again given the Paris support and playing staff a feel good factor, and the timing of it is extremely encouraging.
Paris Saint-Germain travel to Lyon this weekend, with the league leaders likely to be without their star player Alexandre Lacazette. A win would send PSG above OL on points, and symbolically it would also end Lyon’s run of twelve unbeaten games at home.
Saturday afternoon’s match at the Vélodrome followed a similar pattern to Friday night’s game, with OM dominating a match against lower half of the table opposition, but finding it impossible to score more than a single goal.
Goals at the start of the season were a central part of the ‘Bielsa effect’ that initially rocked Ligue 1, but it now appears that the Chilean’s side are now finding making the ball cross the goal line slightly more difficult than before.
The home side was strengthened by the return to the starting line-up of two of its more established players, with Benjamin Mendy returning to left-back and Rod Fanni moving back to centre-back after suspension ruled him out of last week’s defeat at Nice.
The Marseillais offensive options were also strengthened by the return to the starting line-up of local boy Romain Alessandrini and the home support were hoping that the ‘darling of the Vélodrome’ could help fire their side back to victory with his gifted left-foot.
In the opening period, the match referee Franck Schneider turned down two inciting Évian penalty claims, causing visible outrage among the away side’s players and technical staff. Daniel Wass, by far and away Pascal Dupraz’s side’s most exciting talent, appeared to be bundled over by a sluggish Rod Fanni just moment after kick-off, as the Dane beat the former Rennes defender to a through ball.
Schneider judged that Fanni had fairly tackled Wass, but replays appeared to show the centre-half pushing Wass in the back. The second penalty claim looked even more clear-cut, as Jérémy Morel clumsily clattered into the away side’s new loan signing and Costa Rica international David Ramirez.
After the game L’Équipe journalist Erik Bielderman caused lively debate to emerge when, in relation to the Ramirez penalty claim, he argued that referees have now entered the period in Ligue 1 when they chose not to make big decisions against leading clubs because “they’re afraid of having a direct effect on the title race”.
Dimitri Payet came closest to opening the scoring for Marseille in the opening period with a speculative volley that whistled over the bar, but it was yet another OM home game that would be settled in the second-half. Controversially, the home side were awarded a penalty just four minutes after the re-start.
Payet appeared to be clipped by Évain’s veteran midfielder Cédric Barbosa, but it could be argued that the foul was actually less obvious than the blocks committed by Fanni and in particular Morel in the first-half. To add insult to Évian’s injury, André-Pierre Gignac stepped up to score from the spot, netting his fourteen goal of the season.
Marseille’s inability to create obvious goalscoring chances and Évian’s increasing influence on the game combined to create an extremely nerve-wracking final ten minutes for the home support, but OM held on to win with what was a mediocre performance, handing them what could turn out to be an extremely influential victory.
The win proves yet again that even when Bielsa’s side fail to get out of second gear at the Vélodrome, they are still able to carve out results. It must be added that obvious refereeing decisions went the way of the home side on Saturday, and this won’t be a regular occurrence that the men from Provence will be able to rely on if they are to continue to challenge for the title that their fans so desperately want.
One exciting piece of news for Marseille fans to note is the loan addition to the squad of Monaco’s Argentine attacking midfielder Lucas Ocampos, who Bielsa will be hoping can instill some much-needed flair into his side’s game.
Lyon’s stalemate in Monaco helps PSG and Marseille
Lyon missed the chance to once again go four points clear of second and third placed sides PSG and Marseille on Sunday evening in Ligue 1’s final weekend against Monaco at the Stade Louis II.
Struck by the notable absence through injury of the league’s leading goalscorer, Alexandre Lacazette, Hubert Fournier’s side were unable to score against one of the league’s meanest defenses of the season so far, in what could still turn out to be an important goalless draw for Ligue 1’s leaders.
The result maintains Lyon’s unbeaten record since their derby defeat to Saint-Étienne in November. Monaco have now also remained unbeaten in Ligue 1 since their defeated to Rennes in the same weekend.
Lacazette’s absence gave Yacine Benzia the perfect opportunity to showcase his own attacking qualities, as the twenty-year-old started the game in a front two with Nabil Fekir. It was a more experienced striker however who would come the closest to scoring what would’ve been the game’s only goal, as Dimitar Berbatov headed against the post from close range in the opening period of the first-half.
Fabinho, the Monaco right-back, did brilliantly to cut down the side of the box with pace before chipping the ball across the box to find Berbatov. The Bulgarian, as English Premier League fans know well, is capable of some incredible technical feats with the ball, but on this occasion he really should have scored into what was a mostly open goal.
A goalless though pleasing to watch first-half was then followed by an equally entertaining and once again goalless second period. Monaco came extremely close to scoring when Belgian international Yannick Ferreira Carrasco had what at first looked like a perfectly good goal ruled out.
The twenty one-year-old’s free-kick from around thirty yards out bounced past Anthony Lopes and into the Lyon net, but it was ruled out because the referee had ordered that an indirect set-piece was to be taken. Luck certainly wasn’t in abundance in this part of Monte Carlo.
OL had one real chance of their own before the end when Fekir met a Yoann Gourcutt pass to fire wide, though on reflection he really ought to have cut the ball back to Benzia, as the Franco-Algerian striker, who was completely unmarked, would have been left with the simplest of finishes from the edge of the six-yard box.
Monaco once again remained firm and determined at home, showing how well they have progressed from being such a fragile side at the start of the season. The Stade Louis II has once again become a very tough place for opposing sides to go to and return home with three points, and this can only be a good thing for the league in general.
Lyon supporters will obviously be worried by the fact that Lacazette’s goals will be missing in the next few weeks, however despite Sunday’s result, this Lyon side is still an outfit that is capable of scoring goals regularly.
A victory at home against PSG this coming weekend would be the perfect way for Fournier’s side to demonstrate the fact that they should not be considered to be a one-man team.