PSG look to keep pack at bay
By I. Holyman
Paris Saint-Germain can ill afford to allow AS Nancy-Lorraine to continue their surprisingly good record at the Parc des Princes on Saturday if Carlo Ancelotti's Ligue 1 leaders are to keep the chasing pack at bay.
Paris Saint-Germain - AS Nancy-Lorraine
Last weekend's shock 1-0 defeat at Stade de Reims, coupled with a draw for Olympique Lyonnais and a win for Olympique de Marseille, saw the gap between the top three reduced to five points. Grzegorz Krychowiak's second-half strike in the Champagne region inflicted a second defeat on PSG in three Ligue 1 outings, both of which came against sides at the bottom end of the table, and again cast doubt on the ability of Ancelotti's squad to produce the consistency required to win the title.
"Perhaps we have a team made for Europe, based on talent and the quality of its passing, not for matches like this one," claimed sporting director Leonardo, who had seen the side slip to defeat at FC Sochaux-Montbéliard in Week 25. Ancelotti, however, had a more down-to-earth explanation: "It wasn't a problem of attitude, like at Sochaux. Here, we had some difficulties in our play due to the pitch, which wasn't great. We had to play the ball long, and we're not used to playing like that."
The display at the Stade Auguste Delaune was below-par compared to back-to-back victories over Olympique de Marseille in the week leading up to it, though Ancelotti's side were hardly all-conquering either in securing passage through to the Champions League quarter-finals with a 1-1 draw at home to Valencia on Wednesday. Given Nancy arrive at the Parc des Princes firmly ensconced in the bottom three, it appears an ideal opportunity for PSG to regain their pomp, however the Lorraine club's fine record in the capital means Patrick Gabriel's side have cause for optimism. They are unbeaten on their last three visits, winning 1-0 last season, before doing the double over PSG later in the campaign.
Though Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the only goal of the game when the two sides met earlier this season, Nancy caused the capital club problems, and they have improved still further since Gabriel took over from Jean Fernandez in January. Back-to-back league wins over FC Lorient and OM gave the club, eight points adrift of safety at the halfway point in the campaign, hope, and though three successive defeats knocked them back, their 2-1 victory at fellow strugglers Sochaux last weekend means survival remains a realistic target.
"This win is naturally a satisfying result. Had we lost tonight, the rest of the season would be looking a lot more complicated right now," said Gabriel, whose club is six points from safety. "The results of our relegation rivals didn't really go our way, but we'll keep hanging on, even though our situation is pretty delicate. We were fortunate enough to score first and then we handled the rest of the game well. I played three forwards to hinder the Sochaux wing-backs and force them to go through the middle, and I think it worked well."
Goals, however, remain a serious problem. Only Reims have scored fewer times than Nancy this season, and with PSG boasting the best defence in Ligue 1 and Thiago Silva likely to return to the hosts' back four, Gabriel's men will need to exploit set-pieces as well as they have done already this season. More than half of their 24 strikes have come from dead-ball situations with Sébastien Puygrenier, who has a team-high four league goals, a particular danger to PSG's ambitions of moving forward en route to a first L1 title since 1994.
Paris Saint-Germain: Sirigu; Van der Wiel, Thiago Silva, Sakho, Maxwell; Chantôme (or Lucas), Beckham, Matuidi, Ménez; Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi (or Gameiro)
Nancy: Gregorini; Jebbour, Sané (or Sami), Puygrenier, Lotiès, Muratori; Karaboué, Ayasse, Mangani, Bakar; Moukandjo