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.