Title party on hold as PSG stumbles vs. Sochaux
Paris Saint-Germain’s celebrations of a fourth Ligue 1 title were put on hold on Sunday after Laurent Blanc’s men were held to a 1-1 draw by a determined FC Sochaux-Montbeliard side at Stade Bonal. Edinson Cavani had given the French champions-elect the lead in the first half, but his sublime effort was cancelled out by a second half Thiago Silva own goal. It was no less than les Lionceaux deserved after a frantic and thoroughly entertaining encounter, but PSG enjoyed as many chances as their hosts and both sides can feel aggrieved not have won the match.
Almost six years ago, PSG travelled to Franche-Comte knowing that only a win over Sochaux would save them from relegation to Ligue 2 on the final day of the 2007-08 season. A double from Amara Diane saved them on that day and secured a priceless 2-1 win to ensure survival.
Nowadays things are very different and, six seasons on, PSG’s situation has changed immeasurably. The French champions travelled to Stade Bonal on Sunday with the chance to make history by not only completing the first-ever successful title defence in the capital club’s relatively short history, but also to complete a maiden league and domestic cup double.
The Parisians were unable to secure that last remaining win though, meaning that they will next get their chance when they host Stade Rennais at the Parc des Princes in 10 days. However, PSG can only blame themselves for that failure, as they created more than enough chances on the day. Cavani put the defending titleholders 1-0 up in the 24th minute with a superb finish, controlling a perfectly weighted lofted pass from Thiago Motta inside his own half before coolly slotting between Sochaux goalkeeper Yohann Pele’s legs. The 31-year-old would thwart Blanc’s side on countless other occasions though with Lucas Moura, Ezequiel Lavezzi and substitute Marco Verratti all wasting excellent chances to score a second for the side from the capital -- the Italian’s miss was particularly shameful, missing from close range when it looked easier to score.
PSG contributed towards a frenetic and immensely enjoyable spectacle, but their performance lacked the focus and determination necessary to win a game against a team fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the table. The level of urgency displayed by the Ligue 1 leaders was far below that required for a match of this importance and the complacency shown in recent weeks has taken some of the shine off of what has otherwise been an excellent season.
Once again, certain players failed to influence proceedings enough with Lavezzi, Lucas, Thiago Silva -- once again a shadow of his normal self -- and Yohan Cabaye all struggling to reach their optimum level. The attitude of some of the players was similar to that displayed against Evian Thonon Gaillard earlier in the week -- as if the league title is already won -- which is worrying considering that this complacency was creeping in before the UEFA Champions League double header with Chelsea.
Equally as concerning for PSG was Blanc’s performance though, not just that of his players.
Yet again le President froze under pressure and his lack of reaction to Sochaux’s equaliser will amplify the criticism that he has come in for in recent weeks, particularly with his new contract still not finalised. The reaction to the Chelsea defeat was perhaps knee-jerk in nature because Blanc was competing at the very highest level but -- with all due respect to these teams -- Olympique Lyonnais, Evian and Sochaux are not of the same calibre as the Blues and their coaches certainly are not (or not yet in Remi Garde’s case).
There is no shame in being tactically outwitted by Jose Mourinho, but there is in being frustrated by the likes of a Pascal Dupraz or a Herve Renard. Blanc’s inability to react to certain situations and his penchant for like-for-like changes involving the same players -- also evident prior to Chelsea against FC Lorient and OGC Nice -- belies a coach who is tactically inflexible and has no backup plan when the team is struggling.
PSG are now in a sticky situation because sacking Blanc or allowing him to leave makes the capital club look like an unstable post for any top class coach, but by the same token the Frenchman has given the club reason enough to hesitate over sticking to their word and extending his current contract. Blanc’s achievements this season cannot be faulted, but there are clear indications that the coach does not possess the tactical acumen to realise the ambitious capital club’s goals -- particularly in Europe.
Overall, the 1-1 draw at Sochaux is not a fatal blow and it was more than a deserved point for the hosts who did not look like a side four points adrift at the bottom of le Championnat. PSG will surely secure the title when they take on Rennes in 10 days time, likely to be boosted by the return of the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic who they are still far too reliant on. However, the attitude within the squad must be addressed, as there should be no shortage of motivation with the title still technically up for grabs. Blanc’s recent hesitancy is the greatest concern for the moment though.