In a tense affair that spilled over at times, Paris Saint-Germain earned a valiant 1-0 victory in Saint-Etienne to book a place in the last-four of the Coupe de la Ligue and keep our defence of the trophy alive. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s controversial winner in the second-half sparked animosity in the stands, which resulted in the game being suspended for around 10-15 minutes.
This result is huge for coach Laurent Blanc! His reaction at the end said it all; one of joy but also immense relief. Zlatan was the first to greet him with a high-five which I thought was good to see. Shows unity!
The coach made a couple of changes from the side that lost to Bastia. Notably, Thiago Motta returned in the holding role with Marco Verratti joining him and Blaise Matuidi to complete the midfield trio. The full-backs were rotated. Lucas Digne was in for Maxwell and Marquinhos in place of Gregory Van der Wiel. Nicolas Douchez continued in goal due to Salvatore Sirigu’s absence. Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore operated the wide areas to support Ibra.
Just like last Saturday, we started the better of the two sides. We did not sail into a two-goal lead but we certainly had control of the game. The play was good. Nice quick passing was on display which I think was helped by the return of Verratti and Motta. Little Marco in particular had a flawless game. He was so composed on the ball, evaluating possible areas to spray his passes to. Having him back to full fitness is a welcome boost!
Slowly but surely, Les Verts played their way into the game and very nearly took the lead. Moustapha Sall brushed David Luiz away with ease to meet a corner with his head but thankfully for us Verratti was on the line to clear. So typical of Les Parisiens though. For all our possession, it was the hosts that went closest to breaking the deadlock.
After the interval Stephane Ruffier produced an unbelievable reflex save to deny Ibrahimovic from close range. Replays showed that the big Swede was offside but nevertheless, you have to admire the reflexes of the Frenchman in goal.
Motta has had his critics. He is flirting with a move. However, he was steady as a rock for most of the game but for one lapse in concentration which nearly resulted in us going behind. The Azzurri international lost the ball cheaply in midfield and ASSE had a clear sight on goal but thankfully Benjamin Corgnet missed the target. How he missed? I have no idea. Blanc looked gobsmacked in the build-up, almost resigned to it being a goal but he was able to breathe a sigh of relief.
With the game so evenly poised, we tipped it in our favour thanks the big man up front. Lucas Moura played a delightful ball into the box which Ibra met with his chest. Ruffier did his utmost to keep it out but replays showed that it just crossed the line. In real time however, it looked to be an outstanding save but the referee awarded the goal – and the replay showed that he was correct. But, incensed by this, the home support pelted the pitch with missiles, resulting in the players being ushered off the pitch resulting in a 10-15 minute delay .
We were mentally strong when the game resumed. In a hostile, bitter atmosphere the players needed to be! Thiago Silva was fantastic. It was his best game in Parisian blue for some time. He made a number of vital blocks and expertly timed tackles.
Then there was Douchez! The Parisian number two produced a world class save in the dying embers to deny Ricky van Wolfswinkel’s goal-bound header. He was able to claw it away with one hand and this resulted in his team mates embracing him. It was a wonderful image, showing that there is team spirit in the dressing room despite what gets reported!
Make no mistake about it, this is a huge win! We have beaten a side that are flying high and in form. After the turbulence from the defeat in Corsica, the players needed to perform. They did just that. We rode our luck at times of course but in the end we have booked a place in the semi-final of the cup. Now attention turns to the Parc des Princes this Sunday against Evian.
Onwards and upwards!