Paris Saint-Germain’s end to the year was an anti-climax more than anything with a drab 0-0 draw at home to Montpellier last Saturday. Not only did we fail to keep up the pressure on leaders Marseille who are now three points ahead of us, we also dropped to third after Olympique Lyonnais destroyed Bordeaux 5-0 away from home. It is the lowest position we have been in heading into a winter break for four years and the first time in three that we haven’t ended the year as winter champions.
So how has our first-half to the season been?
Well, if you are going to compare it to last season then we have underwhelmed in a number of key areas, predominantly in attack. We are behind Marseille and Lyon on goals scored. The leaders have netted 38 times, OL have 40 and we linger with 32.
At this point last season, we netted 44 goals. That is considerably less than our total at the moment which is 32 (a difference of -12). This also backs up why we have created fewer chances this season with 169. Compare that to 222 a year ago! We are down on that by 53 which is alarming really. Does that mean we have gone backwards? Where is the progress? It is plain to see that we are not as free flowing as this time last year and we are ultimately relying on two players to orchestrate the attacks; Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore. We are more content at a patient passing game this time around which is all well and good at times, but we need to be making most of our counter-attacking ability. Our average possession at 60% is the same as last year with the passing accuracy slightly up with 89%.
The most interesting stat is the reduction in set-piece goals. 17 were scored at this point last season, compared to nine this time around. Zlatan Ibrahimovic being out through injury for two months in total is perhaps a reason for that but we are also less domineering when it comes to attacking the ball from corners. Just the solitary goal has been scored from one this season in comparison to five this time last year. Three down on penalties and one on direct freekicks are also the reasons for our lower total.
Defensively, things have been pretty much the same. 13 goals have been conceded in the league (same as last year).
But, that does not highlight some of the apparent flaws we have had there in recent weeks. The skipper Thiago Silva has been a stalwart for this club during his time here but it is evident his level has dropped. Personally, I do not think it is as bad as some of media in France have portrayed. For example though, his positional awareness and lack of strength in Guingamp’s goal that won them the game over a week ago was poor. It just would not have happened to him a year ago.
We looked our strongest when David Luiz was partnered with Marquinhos during Silva’s time out via injury. Luiz has hardly put a foot wrong in my opinion since his mega money move. He comes across as an infectious, likeable personality that also has leadership qualities. Laurent Blanc clearly thinks so as he was made captain for the game against Ajaccio last week.
Marquinhos had a torrid pre-season. His performances during that were so poor and I was personally sceptical about him coming in alongside Luiz. Fair play to him though, he was arguably our best player during that run he had in the team. The level of performance from the pair of them in that 3-2 victory over FC Barcelona was absolutely fantastic. It is clear the future lies with these two as PSG’s men at the back!
Who has been our best player(s)?
This is an easy one; Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore. Who would have thought it though at the beginning of the season? Pastore’s future looked to be heading elsewhere and there were doubts over Lucas living up to his potential. My word, they have been a breath of fresh air and it is wonderful to see.
I am overjoyed with Pastore’s renaissance. He has got his confidence back! That is the main thing. Blanc has instilled belief in the Argentine by giving him a free role. Having a full pre-season whilst many were on international duty due to the FIFA World Cup is a key reason for his condition this campaign. The same can be said for Lucas.
I remember on the opening day of the season away to Reims, LM made a bad judgment call by not squaring the ball to a free Zlatan Ibrahimovic and instead tried to round the keeper – and failed! This was Lucas in a nutshell up to that point in his career in Paris. Indecisive! Ever since that game he has been anything but. He is PSG’s main antagonist in attack! He is the one that sets the tone for the others. The crowd are buoyed every time he picks up the ball. His electric pace and quick feet bamboozle opposition defences and Jordi Alba – an established Spanish international – could not cope with him when we faced Barca at the Parc back in September.
What about the coach?
My readers know that I am a staunch defender of Laurent Blanc. I always put it like this, for a man who was practically sixth/seventh choice upon his appointment to replace Carlo Ancelotti in the summer of 2013, he still led us to a record breaking league and cup double. What really went against him was the second-leg defeat to Chelsea in the quarter-final of the Champions League. Heading to London 3-1 up on aggregate, we eventually caved in to a 2-0 loss and went out on away goals.
The media in Paris have never forgotten that. And again it intensified as we were unable to get a result in Barcelona to finish ahead of them in first-place two weeks ago. Defensive flaws meant we succumbed to a 3-1 defeat.
But during that game in Catalonia, Blanc got his tactics spot on in my opinion. We took the lead, looked comfortable but a lack of concentration at the back allowed Lionel Messi to equalise. Lucas missed a golden opportunity at 1-1 to put us into the lead and Silva did not close down Neymar’s shot which put them 2-1 in front. These are fine details! It is not the fault of the coach, it is the players!
It is clear as day though that LB is tactically restricted. He does not know how to alter the pattern of a game if things are going wrong. It is constantly like for like substitutions with no real change to a formation and more often than not, it underwhelms. He is going to be ultimately judged on our progress in the Champions League. If we fail to overcome Chelsea in the last-16, I fear for him. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi is a fair man but it is blatantly obvious that he craves progress in Europe.
The boys will have a few days off now over Christmas before a winter tour of Marrakech where we play Internazionale in a prestigious friendly. Blanc said after the 0-0 draw with MHSC that everybody needed to recharge the batteries. Let’s hope they do not eat too much turkey over the festive period and find their form in 2015.
They can do so much better!
Statistics courtesy of Squawka.com