Dominating teams is no longer enough for Paris Saint-Germain and the 1-1 draw away at AS Monaco on Sunday once again emphasised something that has become increasingly obvious since the start of 2014. Despite being able to keep the ball way from their opponents for large periods of games, the French champions have lost their clinical edge in front of goal and are struggling to win matches convincingly.
Although it might sound rich to suggest that a team with two strikers that boast a collective 31 goals and nine assists from 24 matches this season need to find their shooting boots, coach Laurent Blanc should be concerned by his side’s inefficiency when in control of the ball. They see enough of it over the course of an average game, both domestically and in Europe, yet the final score often does not reflect their dominance.
Last weekend’s result at the Stade Louis II in the principality can be viewed as two dropped points in as much as Blanc’s side retained 54 percent of the ball over the entire 90 minutes and still had to score an own goal in order for their main title rivals to find a way through to peg them back. Although Monaco created the better chances and more of them during the game, PSG still had a handful of opportunities to score a second goal that were not taken.
Most guilty on the night for the Parisians was Zlatan Ibrahimovic who, nursing a troublesome back problem, played the full 90 minutes from the start because of Edinson Cavani’s hamstring injury.
The Swede missed two noteworthy openings during the match, while goalscorer Javier Pastore could have added to his opener with a second towards the end of the first half. Admittedly Danijel Subasic in the hosts’ goal put in an outstanding performance between the sticks to keep the Ligue 1 leaders out in the principality, but it was not just against Monaco where this wastefulness has been evident.
In the recent match against FC Nantes in the Coupe de la Ligue, it took a last minute Ibrahimovic winner for the side from the capital to avoid extra time and possibly even penalties. Against Montpellier HSC in the Coupe de France defeat in early January, Cavani missed a near open goal and other opportunities were spurned.
The 2-0 home win over Girondins de Bordeaux at the end of January was a flattering reflection of a game in which PSG struggled to create many clear chances and AC Ajaccio was a scrappy 2-1 victory against one of Le Championnat’s worst sides. More concerning than those results though was the 1-1 draw away at EA Guingamp.
Only a late Alex header saved the champions’ blushes at the Stade du Roudourou and it was a game that Blanc’s men arguably deserved to lose. Little was created in the way of clear chances and the problem of fatigue because of a lack of adequate depth at that time was not a valid excuse. PSG simply did not do enough on the ball to win the match.
There have been games this season where the expensively assembled team have absolutely annihilated opponents.
Nantes were the most recent recipients of a heavy defeat at the Parc des Princes, while Stade Brestois, FC Sochaux-Montbeliard, Olympique Lyonnais, FC Lorient and SC Bastia have all been comprehensively beaten. While in the UEFA Champions League, Olympiakos and RSC Anderlecht both suffered heavy home defeats to the French titleholders.
At the start of the season though, this was a team that took their time to find their identity and struggled to break teams down. Perhaps everybody was quick to dismiss those disappointing showings from the start of the campaign once PSG’s star individuals were up and running.
Ibrahimovic had two goals from his first eight appearances before he hit his purple patch of form that is yet to show signs of dissipating. Cavani did well to share the load, netting twice as many as the Swede in those first eight games, but that did not make the team’s performances any more convincing.
Blanc and his players will now be tested further; following the news that Ibrahimovic’s back problem could keep him out of Friday’s clash with struggling Valenciennes.
With Cavani expected to miss both that match and next week’s Champions League last 16 first leg against Bayer Leverkusen, the talismanic Swede is more indispensable than ever right now for the side from the capital. Ariel Jacobs’ men posed PSG a number of problems when the two met back in September at the Stade du Hainaut, a narrow 1-0 defeat that proved to be one of the Belgian’s predecessor Daniel Sanchez’s last games a coach.
It could get even worse for Blanc though, with the tragic news that Ezequiel Lavezzi’s uncle Jorge was found murdered in Rosario, Argentina, on Tuesday morning. Few would begrudge the Argentine international taking a leave of absence considering the gruesome details surround the death and it would not be a surprise if he did need at least a few days’ away from the team.
However, El Pocho’s absence and the anticipated loss of Ibrahimovic and Cavani for the Valenciennes match puts PSG under immediate pressure after failing to stretch their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to eight points in Monaco. More worryingly, all three could realistically miss out against Leverkusen in Germany next week too.
All of a sudden, PSG look purposeless again at times, as they did at the start of the season. Perhaps many forgot too easily the insipid performances from earlier this term when the team was grinding out wins. While it is not a major problem just yet because the team have not suffered another defeat since Evian Thonon Gaillard away, the absence of so many attacking talents could see the team’s inefficiency further exposed over the next two matches and particularly on the European stage.