The aftermath of the defeat to Nice on Saturday night has been one of hysteria in Paris. The club is being scrutinised for yet another abject performance which could prove to be damaging in our quest for a third league title. The manner of the defeat and the comments from Carlo Ancelotti leave a lot to be desired. The Italian’s remarks were damming – as they were after the defeat to Rennes – and he is under no illusion as to where the problem lies. The players.
So, is he right? Is he detracting the media attention away from himself to ease the weight on his shoulders? Or is he solely to blame?
Let us just assess the defeat at the weekend, forget everything else before it because there are many questions that have been posed from Saturday night, no more so than the decision making from the coach.
I am a big fan of Ancelotti. He is a proper football man and his name alone has brought so many marquee names to Paris Saint-Germain. Would the hefty salary have been enough to lure the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to the club? I doubt it. Even on the pitch, prior to the defeat to Saint-Etienne in October, he installed a winning mentality in the group. Not necessarily playing well on a frequent basis, but they were winning matches – imperative in a title charge. But on Saturday he made a few tactical decisions that were questionable.
Maxwell, a left-back, was utilised in midfield. He has done a sterling job in truth in the last few occasions he has played there. Sylvain Armand impressed in Saint-Etienne in the week and rightfully kept his place. No qualms there. With Marco Verratti out, Blaise Matuidi was ushered into a deeper role with Clement Chantome on the right-hand side. Again, no problem. Three astute professionals who can make the centre of midfield their own. The absence of Mohamed Sissoko though, who was fit, was perhaps a surprise. Matuidi is better off in a more advanced role and Momo could easily have slotted in front of the back four to allow him to do that. Maybe his tendency to get booked made Carlo’s mind up, but I’m just speculating.
The rest of the back-four there were no worries at all. Christophe Jallet was at right-back with the Brazilians Thiago Silva and Alex in the centre of defence. In attack, Zlatan lead the line with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez supporting. The team was not a massive surprise and on paper you would have more than fancied it to get all three points.
In the first-half, despite the lack of clear cut chances, PSG were the better team. Yes, it was far from pretty but they were holding their own in a hostile environment and had the best chances of the game via Ibra and Lavezzi. A tad more composure from the Argentine and Les Parisiens could have been 1-0 up at half-time.
After the interval, it was more of the same. The away team were looking the more likely scorers. Not peppering their opponent’s goal mouth but certainly going the right way about it and the longer the game wore on, the more you felt PSG would nick it. But, what really took all the ascendency from the team were the tactical changes by Carlo. I hate to say it because I am a huge fan of his but he played a part in the defeat.
He brought on Javier Pastore, who by Carlo’s admission is suffering mentally at the moment due to a lack of confidence, for Armand, thus ushering Maxwell back to left-back with the Argentine in the midfield trio. Then he brought on Gregory Van der Wiel for Jallet in a like for like change. This was the root of the problem and as soon as the changes were made, Nice found their joy down the flanks and we looked so vulnerable.
Maybe the 120 minutes in the Coupe de la Ligue played a part in Ancelotti’s thinking but swapping Jallet for Van der Wiel made no sense whatsoever. What was the gain? Van der Wiel has been average since he arrived in the summer, showed no tactical nous, offered very little going forward and his general defending is questionable. Both Nice goals came from his area. The first, he was totally bamboozled by Dario Cvitanich with ease. How he got the ball down and managed to wriggle his way through the penalty area for Eric Bautheac to tap in is beyond me. The Dutchman just allowed the attacker to make a fool of him. Would that have happened had Jallet been there?
The second goal came from the left-hand side again. Thiago Silva had to come out to the wing because Van der Wiel had gone walk about, and by the time he got back he was unable to prevent the cross coming in for the goal. It was just a complete lack of tactical understanding. The cross should have been prevented. In fairness, Guillaume Hoarau gave the ball away cheaply, partly his fault, but there were enough Parisien players back to cover.
Ancelotti was adamant that the defeat was a consequence of the players and not have his tactics. He said after the game; “We lacked aggressiveness, intensity but also responsibility from the players. I feel that they are not focused on the project of the club. There is a lack of solidarity. It is not possible to lose three times in five games. At the moment, this team annoys me!”
So is he right? I have said for weeks that the lack of intensity from the players at the beginning of games is turning into a hindrance. When was the last time we really took it to a team from the get go? The drubbing of Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League in September I can recall, and on that night we looked like world beaters. We never press high up the field, never show any desire to get the ball back as quickly as possible. When teams come to the Parc des Princes we allow them to have the ball and they settle into a rhythm, making it hard work for ourselves. Their confidence grows and ours seems to zap. It needs to addressed!
In all fairness, the attitude of the players in Saturday did not look out of the ordinary to me. Menez has often been lambasted with stick for a selfish nature but he was the catalyst in the first-half, our best player on the pitch as he has been so many times this season. Ibra did not have the best of nights but he still had his sight on goal. He got the equaliser and looked to have got us out of jail again but the concession of the second killed any hope.
We miss do Thiago Motta in midfield. He brings an assurance in there but he has been plagued by injury all season. Someone like his steady head in the mire on Saturday was needed. Marco Verratti, for such a young man is indispensable and when he is not playing it is evident. The two of them and Matudi as a trio are as good as any in Europe, let alone France. Carlo speaks about attitude, but the three of them are as professional as they come and the sooner Motta gets back to full fitness the better.
The coach said he will find a “RADICAL” solution to the team’s problems. What that will be, who knows? He has already changed the captaincy, going back on his ethos of a Frenchman leading the team but he has to do something else to stop the rut.
Le Parisien did a poll on site asking readers ‘Is Carlo Ancelotti still the man for the job?’ 67% said no. What do you think? Sorry for the stereotypical cliché but it takes two to tango. The players need to take responsibility as well and what better way to do that than beat Porto on Tuesday and finishing as Champions’ League Group A winners.