Thursday, 31 May 2012

Rooney, re-match and a distinct lack of rouge

If the PSG move doesn't work out, Wayne is planning to usurp Alan Sugar on The Apprentice
Paris St-Germain have been the subject of approximately 1,354,543 stupid transfer rumours this season,  many of which have been faithfully reported on this very blog despite clearly being about as truthful as your average politician.

But even by PSGT's low standards, talk of a €150million move for Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney is too preposterous to even comment on, except to say that I could see the England man fitting in nicely if he did move to the French capital. Ok, so he's unlikely to appreciate the grandeur of the Musee D'Orsay, or the tranquil beauty of the Jardin du Luxembourg, but given some of the allegations about his private life he'd probably enjoy a trip up to see the er, sights, of Pigalle.

Anyway, moving swiftly on the fixtures were released yesterday, and PSG will start the new season as they finished the old one, with a home match against Lorient. You can see a full list of matches here, but one thing that stands out immediately is that we go to Lille, Marseille and Montpellier in the first half of the season. Mettle will certainly be tested in those matches, but it could work to our advantage knowing we have them all to come to the Parc after Christmas.

The club have also been busy unveiling their new home kit, which you will notice is very blue but not very red. Personally I don't like it very much, but a quick vox-pop of Twitter users garnered a mixed reception overall. Let me know what you think and I'll add your comments:

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

End of season ramblings as PSG miss out on the Ligue 1 title

Now that the dust has settled on the weekend's final round of Ligue 1 action, it's time to reflect on what has certainly been a memorable season in the short but dramatic/melodramatic/traumatic/problematic (delete as applicable) history of Paris St-Germain football club.

For anyone who has been on another planet recently, PSG managed to win their final Ligue 1 match on Sunday night, labouring to a 2-1 win at Lorient thanks to second half goals from Javier Pastore and Thiago Motta. However, their efforts were in vain as leaders Montpellier recovered from going a goal down to beat Auxerre 2-1 and claim the title, Portsmouth reject John Utaka netting twice.

Firstly I'd like to add my voice to the many congratulations which have been directed at Rene Girard's team, who are more than worthy champions. For an unheralded side to outperform the reigning champions (Lille) and the monied new kids on the block is a tremendous achievement, and in many ways a heart-warming tale in an era where football seems increasingly dominated by those with the deepest pockets.

Second place was in the bag for PSG before the weekend's action, and with it a pass straight to the Champions League group stages where the club will compete for the first time since 2004/05. The runners-up spot also represents Les Rouge-et-Bleu's best league finish for nearly a decade.

But despite all this I'm unsure as to how much of an achievement you can call it. It's true that at the start of the season reaching the Champions League was the be-all and end-all, while it's also true that new, big-money, teams thrown together - as this PSG squad was last summer - rarely succeed from the word go.

However, having watched the season pan out I'm left feeling a bit disappointed that we didn't go on and seal the title deal. It's been a great season in Ligue 1 in terms of entertainment, but one where a lot of the fancied teams have underperformed: Lyon are in transition, Marseille are in a mess, and Lille's early-season inconsistency, Champions League commitments and defensive frailties meant they were always playing catch-up. In short, the stage was set for someone else to make a grab for the title, and while Montpellier took full advantage PSG, at times, floundered.

Every team has it's "what if" moments during the season, but this year the Parisiens seem to have had more than their fair share: two defeats to Nancy, points dropped at struggling Caen and Auxerre, and that 0-0 draw in Nice which was supposedly one of the worst football matches in history. Generally the big players performed on the big occasions, and our record against the other sides at the top of the table was pretty good. This makes it all the more frustrating that a bit more positivity and bravery in the less glamorous ties would have almost certainly resulted in us celebrating more than *just* making the Champions League.

Don't get me wrong, in a lot of ways it's been a great season, and some of the attacking football, particularly since Ancelotti took over, has been a joy to watch. But getting too excited about a second place finish makes me uncomfortable in the same way the "underdog" narrative which has been woven around Chelsea since they won the Champions League makes me uncomfortable: Chelsea are only perceived as under-dogs because they were so appalling earlier in the season, this after all is a team containing some of the highest paid players in world football. Should it come as a surprise that they can compete for the biggest prizes? No, we should expect them to be there, not be amazed that they were just because they under-achieved earlier in the year. It's all about context.

Similarly, for me PSG's season needs to be put in the proper context. At the start of this campaign most of us would have taken a second place because a) we didn't expect that PSG would be able to challenge consistently, and b) we expected some of our rivals to do better. As it turned out PSG were able to challenge consistently, even though we gave ourselves the handicap of changing manager half-way through the season, while a lot of our rivals struggled to keep pace. With that in mind, second place is surely the minimum we should have achieved, especially given that we didn't really progress in any of the cups and could, for the most part, concentrate on Ligue 1.

Some of you will be reading this and thinking these are the ramblings of some Johnny-come-lately who wants success and wants it now, but that's certainly not the case. I just feel it's important not to get carried away at this stage because we haven't won anything yet. Success in football usually takes time, but equally you have to be prepared to take your opportunity whenever it comes along. This season was a great chance to get some silverware in the cabinet, and a chance that we, ultimately, failed to take.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Blanc leaves Sakho and Gameiro singing the bleus

I like CSI: Miami, but apparently I'm the only one
I'm sure I'm not the only PSG fan who accidentally writes CSI rather than QSI sometimes when referring to the club's Qatari owners.

Nasser Al-Khelaifi and chums are but a keystroke away from being an elite band of crime-scene technicians, specialising in solving murders while reeling off perplexing dialogue at 100mph.

This week QSI have a couple of (metaphorical) bodies on their hands in the form of the international careers of Mamadou Sakho and Kevin Gameiro. You may have seen that the pair were overlooked by France boss Laurent Blanc when he completed the drawn-out process of naming his preliminary squad for Euro 2012 earlier this week.

At the back Blanc selected uncapped Montpellier stopper Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa over Sakho, while at the other end of the field the former Bordeaux boss has only chosen three proper strikers: Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, and Loic Remy.

"Mamadou is going through a delicate spell with his club," explained Larry White. "With Younes injured I needed a centre-half who is ready to play. Given the season he's had and the context, Mapou could be in a very positive frame of mind, so we judged he's the most apt to play the role."

This situation would have seemed scarcely believable 12 months ago. Sakho had been a regular in Blanc's squad since making his debut against England back in October 2010, while Gameiro has also featured a lot for Les Bleus since the new boss was installed after the last World Cup. Both enjoyed excellent 2010/11 seasons, and were expected to be shining in the all-new PSG.

But it hasn't happened. As we've discussed before, Sakho has been pretty poor this season, his form typified by the clumsy play which led to the - albeit harsh - penalty decision against Lille. And despite a good initial impact, Gameiro has faded badly, and in recent months has rarely featured in the starting line-up.

We're talking about two excellent Ligue 1 players, who really should be in the France squad every time, and their exclusion is bound to make both question their futures. It is easy to see Sakho re-establishing himself in the team next season; after all he's still very young for a defender and is the darling of the Parc-des-Princes. But for Gameiro the future looks a bit bleak, with a big-money striker sure to arrive this summer to further block his path to the first-team. And although he's tried his best up front on his own, his physique is not that of a player suited to the lone striker's role.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Sakho and Gameiro, along with other under-used squad members such as Clement Chantome, this summer, but I fear our rivals may benefit from a few bargains as PSG bling up the squad in preparation for next year's assault on the Champions League. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Winners and losers

"I could definitely be better than Hazard if I wanted to"
As Manchester-based football fans will confirm, four minutes is a long time in football.

Paris St-Germain's already faint title hopes were almost extinguished in the fourth minute of stoppage time at the Stade Mosson on Sunday night. With the score at 0-0 between Montpellier and Lille, Olivier Giroud latched onto a long ball over the top, and showed great presence of mind to square for Karim Aït-Fana to tap in the winner for MHSC.

"One more point and then a tit-wank" declared Montpellier's out-spoken president Louis Nicollin, a man who can be relied on to provide an appropriate summation of any given situation. In some respects the goal didn't make a massive difference: whereas at 0-0 we needed Rene Girard's men to draw their last match at Auxerre, now we need them to lose it. Either way, already-relegated AJA are going to have to pull off a massive shock if we are to take the title, and the psychological boost the goal will give Montpellier cannot be underestimated.

At the Parc-des-Princes, PSG had earlier won 3-0 against Rennes, Nene notching a hat-trick to take his tally for the season to 21, level with Giroud at the top of the Ligue 1 goalscoring charts. The Brazilian's achievement is made all the more remarkable given that he rarely turns up away from home - 18 of his 21 strikes have come at the Parc.

Last night Nene was named in the Ligue 1 team of the year, missing out on the player of the year award to the phenomenon that is Eden Hazard. He was the only Parisien in the team, and this has riled a few of our supporters, who were surprised to learn that Lyon's Hugo Lloris was preferred to Salvatore Sirigu as goalkeeper of the year.

Lloris is a fine keeper, and has been excellent on the few occasions I've seen him this season - indeed you may remember his man of the match display when Lyon knocked us out of the Coupe de France - but it seems to me this is a vote that has gone on reputation. If it weren't for Sirigu it's doubtful whether PSG would be in the running for the title right now. His performances, particularly in the first half of the season, saved countless points, and he has impressed consistently despite playing behind a defence barely worthy of the name.

It's easy to forget, too, that he is still a young man in his first season in a foreign league, and he would have been a worthy winner. Let's hope next season he has less work to do.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Don't stop believin'

WIN AND HOPE! declares the headline on the official site today, succinctly summing up Paris St-Germain's tasks for this coming Sunday.

Personally I plan to watch the above video on repeat for the next couple of days in order to bolster my belief levels, but there won't be any need for Glee at the Camp-des-Loges, as the squad appear to be confident they can still capture the Ligue 1 title.

As you probably know already, the Parisiens need to beat Rennes at the Parc on Sunday night and hope that Lille do the business against leaders Montpellier. The first part of that equation may not be as simple as it seems, as we haven't won a home game against Rennes since October 2006.

"We must play at 200 per cent and follow exactly what the coach says in what is like a Champions League final to me," Nene told France Football, dusting off his hyperbole machine and cranking it up to the max.

"Anything is still possible. We must not let go and believe until the end. There are two remaining matches that certainly depend on us, but we hope there will be one or two favourable results that could help us.

"In that case, we can then hope to win the title. This is certainly the objective we set ourselves."

Almost Churchillian isn't it? Sort of.

Javier Pastore meanwhile has been busy talking to RMC:

"To not be champions would be horrible because we have been led for virtually the entire season," said the Argentine, conveniently ignoring the long stints where MHSC have topped the table.

 "We had our future in our hands. A few points have escaped us. We lost two, three games. We must think of the last two games, qualify directly for the Champions League and win the title if possible."

Amen to that. Pastore's form has been the focus of much attention this season, mainly due to the €42million price-tag foisted upon him when he joined PSG from Palermo last summer. After a bright start, El Flaco soon went off the boil, but in the last month or so has returned to something like his best, scoring in three consecutive games before failing to find the net against Valenciennes on Sunday.

"I am a little better physically. It is true that I have played better in recent games," he said. "I prepared with an Argentine athletic trainer I already knew, with whom I had worked in Palermo. I feel better. It'll help me finish the season well."

If PSG are going to win the title, they will need Pastore to play a big part in the final two matches. If he can do that it may quieten some of those who are already writing him off as an expensive flop. Don't stop Believin'.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Rumour Mill: Forwards flock in from Real Madrid, Napoli and AC Milan

Ridiculously expensive designer glasses always go down well in Paris
In the days since the last edition of TRM, Paris St-Germain have been linked with approximately 1,623,289 players.

Since most of these supposed transfers are about as likely to happen as me ending my current stint of unemployment by nabbing the editorship of The Times (if you're reading this Rupert, I'm open to offers) I'm going to ignore the first 1,623,286 of them and concentrate on the latest whispers.

Le Parisien believes it has an inside track on Carlo Ancelotti's summer plans, and they involve dispensing with any kind of recognised formation and stuffing the team full of number 10s. Real Madrid's Kaka and Napoli's Ezequiel Lavezzi are said to be top priorities, Kaka of course having played under Ancelotti at AC Milan. 

What PSG could really do with is a number nine, but their quest to import Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain is set to end in disappointment, with Jose Mourinho not keen to sell the prolific striker, who despite being an Argentina international was actually born in France. Robin van Persie is also "on the shelf", whatever that means, but if he leaves Arsenal he's more likely to go to Madrid or Man City. Confusing eh, and probably complete bollocks.

Meanwhile "Pato welcomes PSG interest" according to Sky Sports. You'll remember we nearly signed the Milan striker in January.

"Ancelotti is a great coach, we'd be happy if he was to call us," said the player's agent Gilmar Veloz. "With Alexandre the coach has always had a great relationship, his esteem gives us satisfaction."

Sounds promising, but seasoned readers of this kind of story will know there's a 'but' just around the corner:

"Let's see what happens," Veloz continued. "Alexandre is fine at AC Milan and has a contract with the club."

Another player keen to pay the 75 per cent high-earners tax rate proposed by new president Francois Hollande is Valencia's Roberto Soldado.

Soldado has been linked with PSG before and is keeping his options open would welcome a switch to France:

"If Paris Saint-Germain want me and Valencia agree, then we would have to talk,” said Soldado.

“Of course I am flattered that a club like PSG likes me. It is a big team with an ambitious project, with great players like Javier Pastore and [striker] Kevin Gameiro. I like the French league.”

Monday, 7 May 2012

Valenciennes 3-4 PSG: birthday-boy Menez helps his team go top

Regular readers will know that Jeremy Menez is a popular boy here at PSGT towers, so I'll start this blog by wishing him a happy 25th birthday for today.

Paris St-Germain forward Menez will no doubt be enjoying a bon anniversaire having scored what turned out to be the decisive goal in a 4-3 win over Valenciennes last night, a result which takes Les Rouge-et-Bleu back to the top of Ligue 1 on goal difference. One shudders to think what his missus - reality TV star Emilie Nef Naf - will have purchased him as a gift: gold-plated hair straighteners perhaps?

Anyway, back to the match. It was a contest that featured an abundance of terrible defending, starting when Vincent Aboubakar put the home side in front after eight minutes with a goal that took a massive deflection off the back-side of Alex to beat Salvatore Sirigu. Aboubakar was also involved three minutes later when his side made it two, seeing his shot saved by Sirigu before Remi Gomis poked the ball in from close range.

At this stage PSG's title challenge looked to be going the same way as Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency, but Le Parisiens have shown time and time again this season that they don't know when they're beaten. For a side which is often criticised for it's lack of cohesion or team spirit, their resilience is pretty impressive. I've blogged before on the number of points rescued from losing situations, and they could make all the difference come the end of the season.

Crucially in this match they retrieved a goal almost immediately, Jezza chipping a pass into the path of Nene, who scored from a narrow angle. Nene then turned provider, playing the ball through to Maxwell, who notched his first for the club from an even more acute position. Then on the stroke of half-time the Valenciennes defence parted like the Red Sea as Moses, I mean Javier Pastore, played a through ball for Blaise Matuidi to steer in the third.

Now PSG had the wind in their sails, and the fourth goal came after a picture-book passing move, Nene again working it into the path of Menez, who swept the ball over the keeper to make it 4-2. A pin-point free kick from Renaud Cohade made for a nervous last ten minutes, but the visitors held on to reclaim leadership of the league.

"I'm happy with the performances of all my players; they realised that playing together and playing simple is the way to go," said Carlo Ancelotti afterwards, sounding a bit like a frustrated school-teacher whose class have only just grasped how to do their 12-times table. "We're very happy to be back in the lead, even if it's only overnight."

Indeed, Montpellier will be back on top if they can win tonight's match in Rennes. With their game against Lille (who are also in action today against Caen) looming large, it's imperative that Rene Girard's side pick up a positive result.

Meanwhile Lyon's failure to beat Brest yesterday means PSG are definitely in next season's Champions League, which I'm sure most supporters would agree is exciting news. The stage at which we enter the competition will be clearer in two weeks time.

Friday, 4 May 2012

PSG (and Lille) turn up the heat in the title race

Much like this year's Apprentice, the Ligue 1 title race is too close to call.

In the case of Alan Sugar's reality show, this is because there are no stand-out candidates among his latest batch of wannabes and never-have-beens. In France's top flight there are three hopefuls, all worthy in their own ways: Montpellier, the plucky upstarts, Lille, the established favourites, and Paris St-Germain, the talented, nouveau-rich, pantomime villains.

PSG's comfortable 2-0 win over St Etienne on Wednesday night moved them to within three points of leaders Montpellier, while Lille were also victorious in Nice and sit a further two points back.

For perhaps the first time this season, the pressure is on MHSC to deliver, and with three games to go a few cracks are starting to appear at the Mosson. In a scene worthy of one of the many squabbles which take place in Sugar's board-room, Younes Belhanda yesterday had a go at Olivier Giroud for not stepping up to take the injury-time penalty which would've given Montpellier a 3-2 win over Evian. Souleymane Camara took it instead, and missed.

Belhanda, who had been sent off just before the spot-kick was taken, told L'Equipe: "I thought Giroud would take the ball as it was his turn to take a penalty... It was up to Giroud to assume his responsibilities!"

An apology emerged a few hours later, along with some angry words from Girard, who must be becoming a top manager as he's starting to get paranoid:

"This shit is not our doing," he said. "There was a problem in the match against Evian. It's (the media's) job to be honest and say who's responsible for the shit.

"I read L'Equipe this morning. There's a whole paragraph saying that Belhanda clashed with Mongongu and two lines saying that Mongongu hit Belhanda twice. I don't understand.

"There are more interesting things to see at Montpellier, or maybe it shows that people don't like the club. We don't need that. We want to work in peace. I've read everything except the truth."

It's completely understandable if tensions are beginning to creep into the Montpellier squad. Most of them haven't been in this position before, and experience can be vital in the closing stages of the season. You'd still make them favourites, but I'm also concerned about Lille, who do know what they're doing and of course go to Montpellier next weekend.

For PSG, next up are Valenciennes, and they go into the match in good spirits after goals from Nene (pen) and Pastore, his third in successive games, helped see off ASSE at the Parc.

Jezza Menezza was back in the side after missing the Lille game through injury, and earned praise from visiting coach Christophe Galtier, who described him as one of the best players in Ligue 1.

"The feeling is that we are still in the race, especially as we have played some beautiful football," said Menez after the match, perhaps getting slightly carried away.

"We will try and do the same in the three games we have left to play."

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Montpellier bottling it? PSG prepare for crucial St Etienne match

There's only one brand of water for me from now on
After blithely stating on yesterday's blog that "there's no point worrying about Montpellier now", I was glued to the internet last night praying that Evian would hold out as they led MHSC 2-1 at the Stade Mosson.

The match eventually ended 2-2, with Olivier Giroud sparing the home side's blushes with an equaliser five minutes from time. But what would have been a good night for the leaders, who after all extended their lead at the top by a point, turned sour in injury time. Souleymane Camara missed a penalty which would have won the match, moments after key player Younes Belhanda was sent off for lamping one of the ETG players, an incident which sparked a frankly tremendous mass brawl.

Montpellier's record this season without Belhanda, who was away for the Africa Cup of Nations with Morocco back in January, is actually quite impressive - P7 W4 D2 L1 (thanks to James Eastham on Twitter for that) - but nevertheless his absence through suspension, which is likely to encompass the last three games, will be a blow to their chances. And it remains to be seen whether the missed penalty will have an effect on morale; had it gone in they would be eight points clear this morning, but as it is Paris St-Germain could be top on goal difference by the time Rene Girard's men next take to the field. Lille can't be written off either, pending their match tonight of course.

All this doesn't alter the fact that PSG need to win against St Etienne at the Parc tonight. We beat ASSE 1-0 in Antoine Kombouare's last game in charge, and on that occasion they showed they are certainly no push-overs. Now firmly in the hunt for a Europa League place, they possess an increasingly prolific forward in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and other attacking players who can hurt you given the chance such as ex-Leeds man Max Gradel.

They will almost certainly get a chance of three courtesy of PSG's back four, which will feature Lovely Lugano at the centre alongside Alex, with Bisevac injured and Sahko suspended after his misdemeanour against LOSC. On the plus side, Jezza Menezza should be back, with Gameiro making way, and Maxwell could return in place of Tiene at left-back. Clement Chantome could be on the bench after recovering from his latest injury.

"Saint-Etienne are sixth, chasing a European place, so this will be a difficult game," notes Carletto, who is confident that we can still go on and lift the Ligue 1 trophy.

Not one for Alex Ferguson-esque "mind-games", he continued: "It's weird to say that the championship is over. Everyone thought that the Champions League final would be between Real Madrid and Barcelona, or that Manchester United would easily win the (Premier League) title.

"I don't think the championship is already decided. We have to play our games and do as well as we possibly can.

"We need to focus on our own game, not that of Montpellier. If we take 12 points then we are assured of second place and qualification for the Champions League."

He's obviously been reading this blog.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Reality bites as PSG Roux Hazard-ous night in Lille

Sirigu: Hoping for Montpellier's death
So where do we go from here?

That's been the question on many Paris St-Germain fans' lips since Sunday night's 2-1 defeat in Lille, where goals from Nolan Roux and Eden Hazard left our title hopes in Ligue 1 hanging by a thread.

You may remember I predicted we'd lose this game, so it may seem a bit melodramatic to be reaching for the razor-blades and cutting the wrists of our Championship challenge. But Montpellier are also a couple of points better off than I thought they'd be following their win in Toulouse, and can increase their lead to eight  if they beat Evian tonight. 

It's not too much of a stretch to think that MHSC could lose two of their final four games - they still have to go to Rennes before hosting Lille - but is it likely PSG will pick up maximum points from their remaining quartet? Salvatore Sirigu believes the title is now out of reach.

"The title is much further away from us now," the Italian goalkeeper said after Sunday's match.

"Apart from death, nothing can stop Montpellier being champions now. We should no longer be thinking about trying to catch Montpellier. We should no longer be thinking in terms of the table and we should no longer be thinking about first place or second place. 

"We have to play to bring some joy to ourselves and our supporters. We need to do that to finish the championship well and finish with our heads held high. There are no objectives any more, we just have to play and do as well as we can."

Apart from death? Seems a bit melodramatic, but I agree with his general point. There's no point worrying about Montpellier now, we just need to try and string together four good results and see where we end up. What is imperative is that we don't let Lille, who are now just two points behind us, snatch second place.

A third place finish means extra qualifying games for the Champions League, which are notoriously difficult to navigate in a summer when there has been a major championship such as the upcoming Euro 2012. The players don't get much of a break as it is, without the prospect of shoe-horning in crucial games before the 2012/13 season has even started.

If Hazard continues to display the kind of form he did on Sunday night, LOSC are going to be on our tails until the final game of the season, so we can't afford any more slip-ups. 

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