Paris Saint-Germain face a challenging double-bill with the club from the principality over the next few days. AS Monaco stand in our way of a possible domestic treble as we go head to head at the Stade Louis II this evening in Ligue 1 before a quarter-final clash in the Coupe de France on Wednesday night at the Parc des Princes.
We are up against a side that is buoyed by a fabulous 1-3 victory away to Arsenal where they fully deserved their first-leg victory in the last-16 of the Champions League. Leonardo Jardim’s men did Ligue 1 proud. They were excellent and hats off to them. To go to the Emirates and win as comfortably as they did is no small feat but testament to their Portuguese coach whose game plan was spot on. He has sheer belief in his players as he remonstrated in the build-up to the game by exclaiming his side should not be written off. They had finished top of their group with an impeccable defensive record having conceded just one! The best defence statistically in the Champions League. However, they did score the fewest out of all the qualified sides for the knock-out stages but that did not stop them from shipping three past one of the Premier League’s best sides.
The counter-attack was the main artillery as they utilised the space and that was evident with their second-goal via Dimitar Berbatov. Anthony Martial was a constant menace and it was his running down the left on the break which stretched the Gunners before teeing up the Bulgarian striker to finish with aplomb. That made it 2-0 on the night after Geoffrey Kondogbia opened the scoring with a strike from distance that was deflected off Per Mertesacker. The Frenchman was crucial in the heart of midfield alongside Joao Moutinho who was pulling the strings. The home side pulled a goal back in stoppage time but ASM had the last laugh with a third thanks to Yannick Ferreira Carrasco. The Belgian has a bright future ahead of him and the goal is just a snippet of what is to come over the coming years.
So the Monte Carlo side trumped our performance a week prior against English opposition so this Sunday has all the ingredients for a fascinating contest. Laurent Blanc had his say on the recent success from the French clubs over Premier League sides in his pre-match presser yesterday; “Judging by the recent Champions League matches between Paris and Chelsea and Arsenal vs Monaco, you’d have to say that French teams are doing better than English sides, while everyone said we were going to struggle. It may be a different story in the return legs, but for the moment, it’s the English club’s that have struggled. Analysing the two championships is a different argument, but over these two matches, we were better than them. That’s good for the French league. In Ligue 1, there are quality teams, quality players and quality coaches. We have to be conscious of that and not always thinking that the grass is greener elsewhere”.
ASM are seven points off third but have played a game less. Their match with Montpellier was postponed last week due to heavy rain. So, if they want more nights like last Wednesday then they need to close that gap on the top three.
As for ourselves, we know that we can ill afford to drop more points. There were plenty of positives out of last weekend’s 3-1 victory over Toulouse at the Parc. No more so than Adrien Rabiot’s brace. The 19-year-old has put his case forward for more game time but with Marco Verratti and David Luiz back from their suspensions, AR will probably have to settle for a place on the bench again.
Thiago Motta has been the first in at training at Camp des Loges this week as he tries to overcome this persistent calf problem he has had since the Nantes game two weeks back. He will miss the game today but could be back in contention for the cup match. David Luiz stands a very good chance of starting in the holding role after that imperious display against Chelsea last week.
One man who will not be involved in either match is PSG’s Player of the Month for February Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The striker is suspended so Edisnon Cavani will lead the line as the central striker. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore will more than likely be the two supporting wide men. Lucas’ injury could not have come at a worse time really as his and Ibra’s absence is a massive blow.
The little Brazilian opened the scoring in the meeting at the Parc des Princes last October. The club from Monte Carlo produced their best performance of the season at that point. They played with an intent to win. Lot of their joy came from the left. Belgian Carrassco was very lively and the man behind him Layvin Kurzawa was arguably their best player.
The last five meetings in the league have ended in a draw, with the last four being 1-1. It has all the ingredients though of a tantalising affair as Blanc pointed out in his presser by saying; “It’s a big league match between France’s two Champions League participants. I would take this opportunity to congratulate Monaco for their 3-1 victory over Arsenal. It was a very good performance. Sunday’s match will be different. They are a team in form and they have a very good squad, which we sometimes tend to forget. This match has all the ingredients for a great game. I hope the match lives up to the billing”.
Lyon’s loss to Lille yesterday means a victory for us tonight will send us top of the league.