PSG targeting historic title triumph at Sochaux
Paris Saint-Germain travel to face FC Sochaux-Montbeliard at the Stade Auguste Bonal on Sunday knowing that a win will see them be crowned Ligue 1 champions for a second consecutive season -- the first back-to-back titles in the club's history. Three points will also secure the capital club's first-ever league and domestic cup double, so there should be no shortage of motivation for PSG side taking on Herve Renard's relegation battlers.
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You would not have guessed that manager Laurent Blanc's men were on the verge of the fourth French title in the club's relatively short history based on their performance against Evian Thonon Gaillard on Wednesday though. It required a dramatic late Blaise Matuidi winner to separate the Parisians from their relegation-threatened visitors -- who had been down to 10 men for the last 30 minutes of the match.
The French international once again epitomised the never-say-die attitude that has seen him go from on the fringes of the starting XI two seasons ago to one of the cornerstones of the current team. It was a pity that few of his teammates on the day displayed the same passion and sheer will to win as the 27-year-old.
Blanc rang the changes on Wednesday though -- fielding a largely rotated side -- and PSG will likely be back to full strength when they take to the pitch at the Stade Auguste Bonal on Sunday.
The current titleholders should be aware; Sochaux have only lost three of the last seven of these meetings between the two and were particularly frustrating for Carlo Ancelotti and his side last year. Les Lionceaux enjoyed a 3-2 victory over the eventual champions back in February of last year and FCSM have scored six goals in their last three home encounters with PSG.
Blanc's men will try to call upon the same standard of performance that saw them sweep a poor Sochaux team aside 5-0 at the Parc des Prince last December. Zlatan Ibrahimovic bagged an impressive double and laid on a further two goals in that game, but the side from the capital will be without the inspirational Swede once again in the Doubs department of the Franche-Comte region.
Edinson Cavani will likely continue to play as the focal point of the team in their talisman's absence -- despite another below-par performance against Evian -- while Lucas Moura will surely be recalled at the expense of Javier Pastore after another inept performance from the enigmatic Argentine playmaker on Wednesday.
Matuidi started the midweek clash on the bench, but will almost certainly be restored to the starting lineup, while Thiago Motta is available after suspension. Yohan Cabaye did little to state his case for greater inclusion against Evian and continues to struggle to re-adjust to the rigours of domestic French football, while Adrien Rabiot failed to make the most of a rare chance to impress. Brazilian duo Maxwell and Alex are also expected to return in place of Lucas Digne and Marquinhos
Those changes should reinvigorate the side and allow PSG to seal the title with a flourish.
For a second successive season, the side from the French capital are faced with an away fixture to seal their Championnat triumph. Last season it was a nervy 1-0 win over Olympique Lyonnais that was secured by a Jeremy Menez winner. This time around it should be more straightforward.
However, Sochaux will be no pushovers. Based on the team's form over the past 10 matches, Renard's men are fourth in the form table and only six points worse off than PSG. There is no doubt that Blanc and his team have far too much for FCSM, but their fighting spirit and determination to avoid dropping out of Ligue 1 for the first time since 2000-01 is admirable.
Fail to take advantage against their floundering hosts on Sunday and the Parisians will have to wait to secure the title until they face Stade Rennais after the Breton side's Coup de France final next weekend. With the title now within touching distance though, victory over Sochaux will end the title race one week earlier than last season. It will also bring an end to a campaign which will have seen PSG add three pieces of silverware -- including the Trophee des Champions -- to the capital club's rapidly expanding trophy cabinet.