UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Paris Saint-Germain vs Ajax
You saw the good and the bad with Paris Saint-Germain on Friday night against Metz. The good consisted of some nice interplay, decent football at times and the players digging in when they needed to. The character in the last 20 minutes must also be applauded. When things were going wrong, we upped the ante and got our reward with an Ezequiel Lavezzi winner. The bad however consisted of a poor start to the second-half when we were 2-0 up. The biggest flaw was the concession of two unnecessary penalties that changed the balance of the game, thus smashing the good work we done in the first 45 minutes to pieces.
Laurent Blanc’s hand was forced to make changes prior to the game due to fitness issues surrounding the likes of David Luiz, Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi and Edinson Cavani who was suffering from fatigue (after his international commitments in South America). Playing on a Friday night during an international week is never easy but with a Champions League game on Tuesday night, the issue would have been similar even if we played on a Saturday. It is not ideal but it is something we have had to cope with in the past two and half seasons.
So it did not help when we lost Yohan Cabaye and Thiago Motta during the game. Cabaye cannot catch a break at the moment. His time at the club has just been stop/start. There has been no consistent run in the team, he is playing too deep when he does play and he has had a few injury woes – this being the latest. Motta had to come off at half-time and was replaced by Matuidi who had not played for two weeks and missed the international break due to his fractured hand. So we had Clement Chantome, who has hardly kicked a ball this season. Adrien Rabiot, who started his first match of the season. And Blaise just coming back from injury. So the midfield was depleted for a large portion of the match. Was that an excuse? Possibly. But the concession of the two penalties is what changed the balance and we could easily have fell behind had Salvatore Sirigu not denied Modibo Maiga a hat-trick at 2-2.
FCM tired in the latter part of the game. Javier Pastore was marvellous yet again. He ran the show for Les Parisiens, playing a part in the winner. The rainbow flick he produced to take two opposition players out of the equation was just divine. You could not have envisaged him attempting anything of the sort at the start of the season. I think that trick just summed up his game at the moment. Just fantastic.
Dutch champions Ajax make the visit to the Parc on Tuesday. They are out of the equation in terms of qualifying for the knock-out stages but do stand a chance to get a spot in the Europa League if they finish third ahead of APOEL. We should have probably lost the game in Amsterdam back in September. The second-half performance from the Dutch certainly warranted more for them but in the end we were lucky to scrape a 1-1 draw. On another night, who knows?
Thankfully we were just starting to overcome our early season jitters. What followed in match-day two was historic as we beat the might of FC Barcelona in that unforgettable 3-2 victory. We are just a point ahead of the Catalans as we battle for that first-place finish which will result in a more favourable draw for the last-16.
Frank de Boer’s men are just coming off the back of a resounding 4-1 victory over Heerenveen although they were made to work for it. All four goals came in the final 25 minutes after falling behind to a lovely finish by Luciano Slagveer.
It is imperative for us to win. To go to the Camp Nou on the last match-day of the group-stage would be absolutely massive as we would only need to avoid a defeat to guarantee us that top spot.