After 120 minutes of play, Paris Saint-Germain could not break the deadlock at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard against a resolute Saint-Etienne side who dug in their heels as they grasped hope of upsetting the Parisien apple cart. With PSG peppering their counterparts excessively in extra-time, an inspired Stephane Ruffier in goal repelled everything that was thrown at him, even toppling Zlatan Ibrahimovic on more than one occasion. With the team’s level, no goals between them, penalties would decide the outcome.
As with any penalty shoot-out, fate plays its part. Thiago Silva, the captain on the night – as he had been the past two games – was the unlucky victim to fluff his lines which handed the men in green the initiative to earn the win. Normally, an accomplished penalty taker, – as he proved against Olympique Marseille in the previous round – the Brazilian’s effort was tame as Ruffier got down to smother. It eventually led to Pierre Aubameyang to step up and claim the victory in a 5-3 shootout win.
The defeat is a bitter pill to swallow. With a place in the quarter-final at stake, Carlo Ancelotti will have been more than keen to make it to the last-four with a first cup final during his tenure in sight. He would have seen it was a wonderful opportunity to get some silverware on board whilst continuing the work in the league, with the eventual hope of completing the job and becoming champions. The Coupe de la Ligue may not have been a priority – compared to the league and in Europe – but there is no way Les Parisiens will have squandered the opportunity to progress without any effort, which they showed plenty of last night.
Whether or not this defeat will be detrimental in the forthcoming games remains to be seen but there are positives to take. Bar an early flurry of Saint-Etienne pressure in the first-half, we dictated the flow of the game. We were in charge for large parts and created more than a handful of chances. Undoubtedly Zlatan had the best chance of the entire game when he ushered away from two defenders, bore in on goal but his placed shot was blocked by the legs of Ruffier. It was a massive surprise that he squandered it, considering his exemplary form. It was the tale of the Swede’s night however as he was denied on numerous times by his counterpart to the delirium of the home crowd who enjoyed jeering him throughout the contest.
ASSE did have their chances, not least Aubameyang’s header that was cleared off the line by Clement Chantome, but in the grand scheme of things, the shape of the team was good, we looked a threat on the break and had we been more clinical we would have won the game. There is definitely a case that we missed the pragmatic Marco Verratti whose passing can unhinge any defence but Chantome did not do too much wrong, as too Maxwell who was ushered into midfield with Sylvain Armand filling in at left-back.
The most evident difference between the two teams was the fitness. Paris absolutely peppered their adversaries in extra-time, penning them in their own half for pretty much the entirety of the 30 minutes. Nevertheless, Saint-Etienne were a credit to themselves. They stuck to their game-plan, sat back, stifled PSG and tried to do their damage on the break. They were also threatening from set-pieces and went close a couple of times from free-kicks and corners.
It was ultimately one of those nights for the side and their fate was dealt in the lap of the gods it seems. The only telling flaw from the night was the lack of finishing but on another night, PSG would have won. Take nothing away from Saint-Etienne who were superb, as too their fans who did not stop singing all night. Their amazing season is just getting better and they have a genuine opportunity of winning their first ever Coupe de la Ligue.
As for ourselves, it is just a case of dusting off and getting back to business. Massive game at the weekend away to Nice. Carlo Ancelotti was disappointed with the loss but was pleased with the evening’s work; “We are very disappointed because we played well. We deserved to win, but unfortunately that’s not the case. We weren’t able to score and a penalty shootout is always a lottery. We played well and that should give us confidence after our recent performances. We played good football, defended well and enjoyed most of the ball. All that was missing was the goal.”