COUPE DE LA LIGUE
AC Ajaccio vs Paris Saint-Germain
Everything was rosy in the garden for Paris Saint-Germain up until the final whistle in Barcelona last Wednesday. The referee called time on a defeat which was our inaugural of the season but this was swiftly followed by another away to Guingamp four days later. Laurent Blanc, as ever, is under scrutiny. Once again when something remotely goes wrong, the coach is in the firing line and he has a big few days coming up to ease the tension with the winter break looming.
LB must be looking forward to a week off before the club jets off on yet another winter tour (this time to Marrakech in Morocco where we will play Italian giants Internazionale). It will be good for the players to get conditioned after their Christmas break but ultimately it is another PR exercise from the club to expose Paris Saint-Germain as a global brand.
Nevertheless, Blanc will want to board that plane knowing we are still in the Coupe de la Ligue and signed off the calendar year in the league with a victory over Montpellier at home this Saturday.
The irony to the criticism the coach is under is that yesterday we were drawn in the last-16 of the Champions League against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. That second-leg defeat to the Blues is what really tainted Blanc last season. Going to London with a 3-1 aggregate lead, many affiliated with the club thought we had one foot in the last-four. Instead, despite a bright opening 30 minutes, we never went for the jugular and ultimately paid the price as Demba Ba netted a goal in the last five minutes to make it 2-0 on the night and send them through on away goals.
Blanc came under heavy scrutiny following that. It was speculated greatly that the club would even seek a replacement. Remarkable isn’t it? Here is a man who was more or less sixth choice to succeed Carlo Ancelotti and was guiding us to a league and cup double. Yet, a defeat in the last-eight put his job in doubt.
Nasser Al-Khelaifi is a fair man. He backed his coach to the hilt. But it has always been apparent that progression in the Champions League this season is vital. We had a golden opportunity to finish ahead of Barcelona in the group and make a real statement of intent to Europe – unfortunately we fluffed our lines.
Personally, I think Blanc set us out perfectly for the Barca clash. We took the lead, looked comfortable but then poor defending allowed Lionel Messi to equalise – then subsequently took the lead. The chance Lucas Moura had to put us 2-1 up has somewhat gone overlooked. That was a critical point in the game. Had he tucked that chance past Marc Andre ter Stegen who knows what might have transpired?
It is the defeat at the Stade du Roudourou which is the irking issue. We were dreadful to be honest. But it is not any secret that PSG can play like that at times, especially after/before a European game. There is a mental issue with the players to motivate themselves for domestic games such as this like they do in Europe. It should not be an excuse though, we had the chance to go top of the league and with Marseille losing in Monte Carlo a few hours later, we could be heading into the break as winter champions.
Tomorrow night, we are away to Ajaccio in the last-16 of the Coupe de la Ligue. This is a side in mid-table in Ligue 2 so there is no excuse. Blanc will shuffle the pack. The likes of Adrien Rabiot, Marquinhos, Lucas Digne, Serge Aurier etc will come in. Is that a risk? Possibly, we need some experienced heads in there and I am sure there will be. But it is absolutely vital for Blanc’s sake that we start our defence of the trophy with a win. Another slip-up, the pressure will mount even more.