Was PSG’s win over Lyon enough to save Carlo Ancelotti?

Leave a comment

For the first time since March 25, Paris Saint-Germain will finish a Ligue 1 round in first place, their 1-0 Sunday win over visiting Lyon leaving them with a goal difference advantage over OL and Marseille. All three teams have 35 points through 18 rounds.

Yet as the Parisians played out their fourth straight win, the subtext of the match became whether head coach Carlo Ancelotti has done enough to keep his job, a question that’s likely to persist until PSG finds the world-beating stride they were expected to carry through their league campaign.

But riding a streak like this, one in which PSG have outscored their opponents 11-1, it’s had to fathom the club’s Qatari ownership making a move. The team seems to have something figured out, especially considering their run includes controlling wins over Porto and Lyon. With just Friday’s match at Brest before a two-week break, PSG may take a five-match winning streak into what will likely be their head coach’s evaluation period.

Ancelotti seems to have done enough to save his job, though two ominous facts remain. First, the team will likely be worse off this winter break than they were when Antoine Kombouaré was dismissed last year. When Ancelotti came in, PSG was alone in first and averaging more points per game than they have this season. Second, and perhaps more importantly (if related), the squad is still underperforming. PSG were expected to have little problem with the domestic campaign. After 18 rounds, they still haven’t broken free of the league.

Judging by Sunday’s performance, if Paris Saint-Germain has found a formula that works, it’s one that still won’t see them pull away from Lyon. Though PSG was clearly the better side, they finish off OL. Les Gones goalkeeper Rémy Vercoutre deserves credit for that, his point blank saves on Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi keeping Lyon in the game. Still, the difference in quality between the bulked up Parisians and the trimmed down Lyon was minimal. PSG had the better of the chances, but particularly through much of the first half, there was little sense Goliath was hosting David.

That metaphor may be trite, but it’s appropriate when considering PSG. Particularly in a league where Lyon, Marseille, and Lille have had to embrace some modesty, Paris Saint-Germain is supposed to be a giant among normals. They’re trying to build something that transcends France, yet one year after calling in Ancelotti to bring the team together, PSG find themselves mired in the same battles that engulfed Kombouaré.

Though Sunday’s match was a positive, it wasn’t necessarily progress. Ancelotti wasn’t brought in to consolidate with PSG already had.

Within today’s positive was another very good performance from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Though he didn’t improve on his league leading 17 goals. he provided the assist on Blaise Matuidi’s winner and generated almost all of Paris’s good chances. He has clicked in a way Levezzi, Pastore, and Jeremy Ménez have not. Were it not for Ibra, change would surely be forthcoming at the Parc de Princes.

Right now, despite PSG failing to meet expectations, it’s difficult to see Ancelotti being dismissed during the winter break. While today’s win may not have inspired, it did pull PSG back to the top of the league, knocking Lyon down in the process. The team still leads their circuit in goals, has conceded the league’s fewest, and won their group in Champions League.

Add a potential five-match winning streak to the break’s considerations and it’s difficult to see the Qataris moving away from Ancelotti before 2013.

Podolski goal powers Vissel Kobe to 1st win in J-League

Getty Images
Leave a comment

KOBE, Japan (AP) German striker Lukas Podolski scored late in the second half on Sunday as Vissel Kobe beat Cerezo Osaka 2-0 for its first win of the J-League season.

Naoyuki Fujita gave the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute and Podolski secured the win on a left-foot shot with eight minutes remaining in regulation.

It was the first goal of the season for Podolski, who last year moved from Turkish club Galatasaray after signing a deal with Kobe estimated to be worth $5.3 million.

Elsewhere, Thai midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin scored late in stoppage time to lift Consadole Sapporo to a 2-1 win over V-Varen Nagasaki.

Takuma Abe scored midway through the second half to give Vegalta Sendai a share of the points in a 1-1 draw with Shimizu S-Pulse, while Diego Oliveira scored his first goal of the season as FC Tokyo beat Shonan Bellmare 1-0.

Mu Kanazaki scored the only goal as Kashima Antlers beat Sagan Tosu 1-0, Gamba Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol finished 2-2 and Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Jubilo Iwata ended in a goalless draw.

LIVE, FA Cup: Leicester v. Chelsea

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Leicester City host Chelsea at the King Power Stadium on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET) in an FA Cup quarterfinal clash between two Premier League clubs.

[ LIVE: Leicester v. Chelsea ]

Claude Puel has Leicester in eighth in the Premier League table and the Foxes can smell an upset with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in fine form.

Chelsea have had a long week with Antonio Conte‘s men going to Barcelona and being taught a lesson by Lionel Messi as they crashed out of the UEFA Champions League but played well apart from Messi’s heroics. Conte’s admission that he doesn’t see the FA Cup as being too important may give Leicester an extra boost.

In team news Leicester start Kelechi Iheanacho up top after his fine display off the bench last week, while Chelsea are pretty much at full strength with Cesc Fabregas dropped, Thibaut Courtois rested and Alvaro Morata starting up top.


Leicester City


Hughes defiant after debut win as Saints boss

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mark Hughes got off to the perfect start at Southampton as the new manager led his team to the FA Cup semifinals.

Saints beat third-tier Wigan 2-0 at the DW Stadium on Sunday to reach the last four of the FA Cup for the first time in 15 years. They are in the relegation zone in the Premier League but are two points from safety with a game in hand.

Second half goals from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Cedric did the job for Southampton as Hughes’ side weathered and early Wigan storm. Speaking to the BBC after the game, Hughes, who was sacked by Stoke in January, was in a defiant mood.

“People have questioned this group before I arrived and maybe questioned my appointment as well. It is only a start but a statement of intent,” Hughes said. “We have work to do in the Premier League but we will enjoy this moment. A Wembley semifinal which will be a great experience for our fans.”

Hughes’ side did what Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City couldn’t in knocking Wigan out of the FA Cup as Paul Cook’s team fairytale run was ended.

In truth Saints could’ve won by a more comfortable scoreline in the second half as Manolo Gabbiadini had a penalty kick brilliantly saved by Christian Walton, but given Wigan’s dominance in the first half, 2-0 was a fine result. Saints looked more dangerous in a 4-4-2 formation and Hughes knows there is plenty more work to do but confidence will perhaps grow with a trip to Wembley coming up.

When it comes to Hughes’ future at Saints he only has a deal until the end of this season. He has eight games to turn their fortunes around following Mauricio Pellegrino‘s firing earlier this week after just five wins in 30 PL games this season.

It appears that Hughes believes he can not only get the Saints out of trouble but also make some waves in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley next month.

“It has been a difficult week for the guys,” Hughes said. “I am really pleased with the amount of talent I have to work with with this group.”

Southampton beat Wigan, reach FA Cup semis

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Wigan’s fairytale ended
  • Hojbjerg, Cedric score first Saints goals
  • Saints reach FA Cup semifinal for first time since 2003
  • Gabbiadini’s penalty kick saved

Southampton beat third-tier Wigan Atheltic 2-0 at the DW Stadium on Sunday as Mark Hughes‘ first game in charge ended in a victory in the FA Cup quarterfinal.

Saints were second best in the first half but Wigan spurned several chances, while Southampton went ahead via Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg‘s first goal for the club as he finished well from a corner.

Christian Walton then saved Manolo Gabbiadini‘s penalty kick brilliantly but a late goal from Cedric Soares sent Saints into their first FA Cup semifinal since 2003.

For Wigan, their fairytale run is over as they knocked out Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City to reach the last eight.

Wigan started well enough as the Latics settled into the game on a difficult surface. Southampton caused some problems for Wigan goalkeeper Walton who dropped a cross but Guido Carrillo couldn’t make the most of it.

Will Grigg then raced clear after a rapid counter from Wigan and his shot was deflected wide with Southampton caught out. Soon after another deflected shot found Cheyenne Dunkley in the box but he couldn’t get anything on the ball with the goal gaping. A massive chance for Wigan.

Gary Roberts then had another great chance for Wigan as a loose ball found him in the box but he looped his effort over the bar. The Latics continued to look the better team and took the game to Saints with 10 corner kicks, as Max Power’s corner almost crept in at the near post.

Jacobs curled a shot just over after half time as Wigan threatened but Southampton improved. Sofiane Boufal curled a free kick onto the top of the net and then Gabbiadini had a glorious chance.

Dan Byrne accidentally played in Southampton’s Italian striker and 10-yards out he only had to beat Walton but Wigan’s goalkeeper produced a fine stop.

Walton denied Hojbjerg’s header soon after as Saints cranked up the pressure and from the resulting corner they took the lead.

Dusan Tadic‘s corner found Hojbjerg and he finished well to score his first goal for the club and the first of Hughes’ reign.

Southampton should have sealed it late on as Gabbiadini was brought down in the box but his penalty kick was superbly saved by Walton to keep the score at 1-0.

Wigan threw everything at Saints late on as Noel Hunt almost equalised but the visitors broke and sealed the game.

Nathan Redmond released Cedric and the right back, in the left wing position, ran free and finished superbly to make it 2-0 and send Saints to Wembley.