Parc de Princes

Cavani double helps Ibra-less Paris Saint-Germain cruise past Lorient

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No Zlatan Ibrahimovic, no problem. In fact, without the icon, Paris Saint-Germain got a chance to show off some somewhat forgotten talents against visiting Lorient, with Lucas Moura and Jérémy Menez putting Ligue 1‘s leaders up two by the 40th minute. Add in a  brace from Edinson Cavani, and the Parisians had another one-sided result, dismissing les Merlus 4-0 at the Parc de Princes.

It was the fourth time in six league games PSG had won by three or more, and while a few close games are interspersed in that run (2-1 over Marseille; 2-2 with Saint-Etienne), Laurent Blanc’s team have displayed a gear they never quite achieved last year under Carlo Ancelotti.

While that team won the French first division for the third time in club history, this one’s threatening to do so in style. Through 12 rounds the team is still undefeated (8-0-4), scoring 24 goals while conceding only seven times. Though Monaco and Lille are close behind at the top of the table, PSG’s putting pressure on them to keep up. This team seems poised to pull away at a moment’s notice.

Laurent Blanc deserves a lot of the credit, even if this space has cast our share of doubts on PSG’s first-year boss. The former Bordeaux man, however, has emphasized a possession game that’s helped produce these one-sided affairs. On Friday, PSG maintained 62 percent of the ball, two ticks below their league-best average (64.1 perfect). The 16.7 shots they’re averaging are three more than the league’s second-best mark.

That attack started today’s scoring in the third minute when a cross from Lucas Digne found Lucas Moura even with the far post. The Brazilian waited for the looping ball to fall to his right foot before blasting the day’s opening goal past Fabien Audard, beating the Lorient keeper from just outside the six-yard box.

Marco Veratti set up Menez for the second, giving PSG a 2-0 lead before Edinson Cavani moved to the top of the league’s scoring charts, heading into an abandoned net to send PSG into half up 3-0. Late the second, a tap in allowed the Uruguayan to complete his double for two yards out, his ninth goal of the year passing Monaco’s Radamel Falcao for the top spot in Ligue 1.

And to think: This was a somewhat shorthanded PSG team. Ibrahimovic is nursing a knee problem, while Ezequiel Lavezzi and Blaise Matuidi came off the bench. Maxwell and Gregory van der Weil sat out. Thiago Silva is still out injured. Yet Blanc’s side still ran out 4-0 winners, their early goal allowing them to pass their way through 90 drama-free minutes.

Against a Lorient side struggling in 17th, perhaps that shouldn’t be a huge surprise. But that doesn’t make PSG’s performance any less outstanding, and it doesn’t mean PSG aren’t making progress. Whereas last year they were champions, this year they have a chance to be great. Friday’s performance was just the latest hint of their potential.

Good news, bad news for PSG: Ibrahimovic extends deal; Silva out for six weeks

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Normally your star player’s contract extension would be cause to celebrate, but when the announcement coincides with news your best defender will be Gone `Til November, it’s hard to enjoy the punch and pie. Welcome to Tuesday at Paris Saint-Germain, where news of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s extension was coupled with word of a six-week absence for Thiago Silva.

Ibrahimovic was already under contract through the end of the 2014-15 season, but if there was ever time for an extension, this was it. The summer before a contract’s last season is usually when you sell, if you’re inclined to do so. If not, you try to re-up before that time to prevent too much leverage sliding to the player’s side of the table.

With today’s deal, Ibrahimovic is now bound to the French champions through 2015-16, with a reported increase in salary from $18.9 million to $20.2 million. Considering that’s likely a net, after-taxes value, Ibrahimovic will be one well-compensated man while playing out his age 34 season.

But the news wasn’t all good around the Parc de Princeswith the diagnosis on Thiago Silva’s Sunday injury returning with bad news. After 16 minutes, the Brazilian international was forced from this weekend’s match againstMonaco, with a subsequent evaluation confirming a left thigh injury will sideline him for six weeks.

Silva made the diagnosis public via his Instagram account (welcome to 2013). PSG head coach Laurent Blanc:

“Thiago has undergone tests that have confirmed a problem with the muscle and the tendons,” he said. “So it is not just muscular and I think he will be out for a certain period. I am not a doctor, I can’t be more precise …

“He is an essential element of the squad, so it is a major blow.”

With a relatively easy Champions League group, their big fall league game behind them, and some depth at center back, PSG should be fine during Silva’s short-term loss. The Marquinhos acquisition from Roma, thought to be a luxury at the time, now looks more prescient. Alex, recovering from a thigh injury of his own, will be back shortly, and Blanc still has Zoumana Camara, who came off the bench on Sunday to play 74 minutes.

The more concerning element of Silva’s injury may be the chronicity. If not that, then the coincidence that a similar injury cost him two months this winter. Perhaps there’s nothing to it, but having turned 29 on Sunday, Silva is approaching the age where injuries could become a bigger part of his profile.

France: Ranieri, Monaco get the result they want at Paris Saint-Germain

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He wouldn’t have admitted it before the match out fear of tipping his hand, but if you’d asked Claudio Ranieri before today’s kickoff at the Parc de Princes, he would have been happy with this result. In fact, part of him would have been playing for it, setting up his team to prioritize organization over endeavor as they tried to get a point out of Paris. And with Radamel Falcao’s 20th minute equalizer holding up after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s early opener, the AS Monaco coach got the result he’d have wanted. PSG were held to a 1-1 draw.

“I’m very satisfied with my players,” Ranieri told media after the match. “PSG have a lot of quality players and they have more experience than us. We have a lot of young players and we were up against a team with a lot of big champions.”

In short: They were the worse team. At least, on paper they were, something they’ll be able to say only one other time this season (when PSG visits them). Monaco may have came into the match at the top of the league (4-0-1), and they may have spent $230 million in transfer fees this summer, but player-for-player, they’re still not a match for PSG. Particularly at the Parc de Princes.

That’s why Laurent Blanc may have been particularly disappointed in the result, quick to lean on the tried-and-ture “deserved to win” line in the face of a result where his team dropped points.

“Given the amount of chances we had I think we deserved to win,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said. “It was a good match and there could have been more goals. What pleased me is that both coaches wanted to win the game.”

Perhaps in the academic sense both coaches wanted to win the game, but the teams only combined for six shots (four for Monaco). Monaco were clearly willing to wait for their chances to materialize, holding only 42 percent of the ball, so the extent to which Ranieri wanted to win, he wasn’t willing to open up his team to do so.

source: Getty Images
Laurent Blanc (left) has his PSG team second in France, 3-0-3 after six rounds. Claudio Ranieri (right) kept Monaco two points clear with Sunday’s draw in Paris. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Coincidentally, that seems to be Laurent Blanc’s M.O. Even with this hyper-talented PSG side, one that pulled away from the pack in Ligue 1 last year, he’s been reluctant to let his talent shine. Much like David Moyes with Manchester United, there is a concern that the tactics that made his Bordeaux teams successful will not translate to a more talented squad that will needs to be more creative offensively to pull apart bunkered defenses.

To this point, Blanc has been unable to do that, leaving last year’s champions with three draws through six games. Despite one of the most talented attacks in the world, PSG has yet to score more than two goals in a Ligue 1 match.

Like Moyes, Blanc is likely to figure things out in time, and to his credit, he is undefeated through six. But Monaco is also undefeated, hinting there may not be much margin for error in this year’s league. And after a draw where they were unable to parlay their huge talents into more than two shots on goal, PSG have dropped points to their principle title rivals.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eASDjrE5F80]

ELSEWHERE IN FRANCE

  • Marseille’s perfect start has faded, leaving them with only one point from their last three games. L’OM drew 0-0 Saturday at Bastia.
  • Saint-Étienne, second coming into the weekend, lost at home to Toulouse on Friday, giving up two second half goals and their 1-0 lead while suffering their second loss of the season.
  • Nice put up four goals in handing visiting Valenciennes their fifth-straight loss, with Dario Cvitanich, Eric Bautheach, Christian Bruls, and Alexy Bosetti getting on the scoresheet in les Aiglons’ third win of the season.
  • Fouad Kadir scored in the 13th and 15th minutes as Rennes extended their unbeaten streak to four, moving sixth with their 2-0 win over visiting Ajaccio.
  • Lyon gave up the first goal to Jordan Verevout at Stade Gerland but stormed back with goals from Bafétimbi Gomis, Clément Grenier, and Jimmy Briand in their 3-1 win over Nantes. OL’s 11 goals lead Ligue 1.
  • Lille got two first half goals from striker Nolan Roux in their 2-0 win at last place Sochaux.
  • Lorient and Bordeaux combined for six, with goals by Kévin Monnet-Paquet and Sadio Diallo bringing Christian Gourcuff’s team back from a 3-1 deficit to earn a draw.
  • Evian came back from two down to earn a 2-2 draw with visiting Montpellier, pulling back goals from Victor Hugo Montaño and Reemy Cabella.
  • And Reims overcame a fifth minute own goal from Anthony Weber with Nicolas de Preville’s second half strike, salvaging a 1-1 with visiting Guingamp.

Paris Saint-Germain purchase makes Lucas Digne the latest to leave Lille

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It’s a ridiculous fee to pay for a left back: $19.6 million. Is this player the second coming of Roberto Carlos? You’d almost need to have that kind of impact to justify that fee at that position, especially when the reported wages (over $4 million per season) take little of the bite out of the huge fee. Then again, when we’re talking about the spending habits of Paris Saint-Germain, there’s only so much time we should spend marveling at the predictably ridiculous outlay coming from the Parc de Princes.

At least PSG are picking good players, a pattern that continued with the acquisition of Lucas Digne. The 19-year-old, who has quickly become one of Ligue 1’s best fullbacks, finalized his move from Lille today, the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup champion calling the transfer “a dream come true”:

“I’m very happy. After the World Cup title in Turkey, I am having an incredible summer. I would like to thank the club for the confidence they have placed in me.”

To put the cost in perspective, PSG paid slightly more for Digne than Barcelona payed for Jordi Alba. While Digne is four years young than Alba was at the time of purchase, Alba was also a proven commodity, having established himself as the first choice left back for the Spanish national team. For a less established player, PSG’s paying more than Alba’s already debatable €14 million fee.

The signing comes one day after PSG spent $84 million on Edinson Cavani, the two purchases sure to increase questions as to how the Parisians are able to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play. To the extent PSG will ever have trouble with Europe’s financial regulations, spending huge money on low-leverage positions like left back can’t help, especially when purchases like Cavani’s double-down on positions already occupied by the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi. The difference in quality between Digne and Maxwell or another potential left back acquisition isn’t worth the $41 million they’ve tentatively committed over the next five years.

Putting that PSG, FFP complaint aside, the departure of Digne gives us a chance to circle back on the sure amount of talent that’s left Lille since their 2010-11 title campaign:

  • Mikael Landreau, starting goalkeeper for that title team, controversially left LOSC in the middle of last season;
  • Mathieu Debuchy, that team’s right back, was sold to Newcastle;
  • Adil Rami was promised to Valencia before Lille had even secured their title;
  • Aurélien Chejou moved to Galatasaray this summer;
  • Yoann Cabaye has spent the last two seasons with Newcastle;
  • Eden Hazard moved to Chelsea last summer;
  • Moussa Sow has spent a year-and-a-half at Fenerbehçe;
  • Gervinho’s just completed his second year at Arsenal;
  • Ludovic Obraniak switch to Bordeaux last season;
  • Dimitri Payet moved to Marseille this summer;
  • Digne just confirmed his exist today;
  • and head coach Rudi Garcia moved to AS Roma this summer.

Midfielder Rio Mavuba is one of the few regulars who will survive the third summer since the team’s title, and while the club’s new Grand Stade Lille will eventually help prevent such audacious raids on their roster, a club that once looked like the France’s Dortmund (before Dortmund’s rise) is left trying to recapture their momentum. It’s been a long two years.

Premier League coaches may face loyalty test in face of Paris Saint-Germain

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Everybody at the highest levels of the soccer world knows the nature of the game, so your manager if one-year gets a call from one of Europe’s elite clubs, there’s no use begging for loyalty. There’s no laying on a sob story where hopes and dreams become weights and expectations. If you’re at Everton and Manchester United come calling for your coach, you sigh, hand over the phone, and go find Roberto Martínez.

Paris Saint-Germain isn’t Manchester United, but there are few clubs in world soccer that offer a better job. A spectacular city, strong league, good talent base, Champions League soccer and an AmEx black card with “WHOEVER WE WANT TO BE” below the number? What more could you ask for, especially given the patience they showed Carlo Ancelotti over the past season-plus?

Thus it’s no surprise names like André Villas-Boas, Michael Laudrup, and (of course) Guus Hiddink have been linked with the position at the Parc de Princes. Hiddink’s also said to be close to a contract extension with Anzhi Makhachkala, so the Dutch vagabond may be merely be leveraging his Qatari friends to get more money. There is, after all, a reason he ended up in Dagestan in the first place. Add in Hiddink’s recent failures with the Russian and Turkish national teams, and he looks like the contractor you hire after a last minute cancellation.

Laudrup is a more intriguing proposition. The Danish playing icon has becomes a bit of a wanderer himself, having coached in four places in the last six years. His current position at Swansea City saw him lead the club to the League Cup, an unexpected honor that will see the Wales-based English Premier League side into Europe next season.  Of course, Swansea faded in the season’s last months, finishing with more losses than wins and a negative difference. Added to his larger body of work, and PSG looks like a huge step up for Laudrup.

That’s not meant to demean the Swansea boss. PSG is just a very high standard. They’re capable of luring coaches like Carlo Ancelotti. When you’re working at those heights, you don’t need to accept unnecessary risk. The Parisians could go from Jurgen Klopp to Antonio Conte to Vitor Pereira, offering their job to every hot and accomplished coach in Europe. There’s a long list of bosses sitting near the top of their leagues that would listen to PSG’s call.

All of which brings us to André Villas-Boas, who just finished his first year at Spurs. Although Tottenham failed to replicate their top-four finish, they claimed more points in 2012-13 then they did the previous season. Given the obstacles Villas-Boas overcame (namely, losing Luka Modric), few would have blamed him if Spurs let the top four drift away.

Given his age, his experience at Porto, and our new context on his Chelsea struggles, “AVB” seems a fine choice for Paris Saint-Germain. In fact, if they were targeting a man to enact a long-term vision, there may be no better candidate. At 35, Villas-Boas still has youth’s blind ambition, a passion that match’s PSG’s potential.

The bigger question, one that also applies to Laudrup, is whether Villas-Boas would want to leave his new job after only one season. For each man, it’s not an uncommon thing, with Villas-Boas leaving Porto and Chelsea before seeing year two while Laudrup’s Swansea tenure is tied for his longest since leaving Brondby in 2006. Both men have ambitiously climbed the coaching ladder, and with each experiencing recent failures (Chelsea for Villas-Boas, Spartak Moscow for Laudrup), there new club’s faith wasn’t necessarily a given.

Turning your back on that type of job — a Premier League post, where recent success has eliminated initial doubts — is no frivolity, especially after you’ve settled in. And after their 2012-13 seasons, both Villas-Boas and Laudrup have settled in. Neither persist in an evaluation phase. Their clubs are pushing into 2013-14 with confidence.

To turn their backs on that would take a special offer, one that would have to be handled with care lest any bridges be burned. Even then, there will still be a question of loyalty. Do you give your current club one, maybe two more years in appreciation for the opportunity? Or do you expect them to understand, as Villas-Boas did with Porto two years ago, that a club level of club only comes knocking every so often?