Who’s Your Granddaddy? Becks has impactful debut, even in cameo

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

A 'Classique' in name only, Paris Saint-Germain edged bitter rival Marseille 2-0 Sunday to once again take a three-point lead at the top of Ligue 1 -- and yes, David Beckham did make his debut at the Parc des Princes. Carlo Ancelotti's men were flattered by their two-goal scoreline as a second choice centre-back pairing kept a clean sheet thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu (seven saves).

However, it will be impossible to ignore Beckham's 15-minute cameo in the win after he played a part in the capital club's crucial second strike in stoppage time.

-- PSG retain three-point lead

Starting with Beckham -- he was good. With so much hype resting on his shoulders pre-match and as the game stretched on after Lucas Moura’s heavily deflected opener, he entered the field at a pivotal moment. With 16 minutes left, PSG were holding a slender 1-0 lead and looked vulnerable as OM poured forward but continued to waste their domination of possession.

What followed in the next 14 minutes was not extraordinary, nor was it embarrassing for Beckham. Simply put, a good football player made his debut and proved that he still has the legs, the hunger and most importantly the ability, to cut it in top-flight European football. He was not out of his depth, and there were glimpses of vintage Goldenballs as he pinged a few passes around and got stuck into the midfield battle.

Then, in the first minute of injury time, he produced an impudent dink into the path of substitute Jeremy Menez, who laid on goal no. 22 of the season for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Job done. A good performance from a good player who looked assured in taking his first steps for the club despite compatriot Joey Barton winning the midfield battle for OM on the night.

Moura was once again the key though, and underlined his importance to the side. It was his early goal that was vital for PSG in getting the victory. Early goals have been the hallmark of the best showings from Ancelotti’s side this season, but the performance that followed was deeply Italian and barely succeeded in stifling the game. Had the Brazilian not scored, les Parisiens would arguably have lost.

Make no mistake; while Beckham grabs the headlines on and off the pitch, this is now Moura’s side. Not Beckham’s, not Ibrahimovic’s and certainly not Javier Pastore’s. The 20-year old was PSG’s best player bar Sirigu, and although fading after his lack of full fitness became evident, his enthusiasm and commitment put him head and shoulders above his teammates. It was a deserved first PSG goal for Lucas, even if it was in dubious circumstances.

Whilst Moura got the crucial goal, Sirigu was Ancelotti’s undoubted match winner. It was arguably the Italian’s best performance since arriving at the club and a goalkeeping clinic. A string of superb, acrobatic blocks were all that stood between the portly Andre-Pierre Gignac, the smallish Mathieu Valbuena and OM sharing the spoils if not taking more from the match. A superb reflex save from Gignac’s goal-bound second half effort was the highlight, but every block was vital.

Sylvain Armand also deserves special mention. Although a relative pensioner in this PSG side along with Beckham at 32, he helped preserve an unlikely clean sheet for the hosts. There was no sign of his Zimmer frame as he put in a determined performance, making few errors and looking calm and composed in Mamadou Sakho’s absence. Brazilian centre-back partner Alex was also solid alongside, but Armand’s dogged display personified some of the determination older members of this PSG side possess to win the club’s first title in 19 years.

Menez was also vital, albeit in a more compact role. The solidarity from fans over his recent situation with the club was telling and something for management to consider. Thankfully, he didn’t reserve all of his talking for off the pitch, and underlined his first-team credentials with a superb six-minute cameo worthy of David Beckham fanfare. He made his point by serving up a timely reminder of his extravagant and mercurial talent by linking up with the Englishman to provide a brilliant assist for Ibra’s goal.

That brings me to the Swede. Ibrahimovic lately has been a Jekyll-and-Hyde character in the side, and Sunday night that was truer than ever. Little else of note followed a sublime pass for Ezequiel Lavezzi’s glorious chance in second minute. He looked off-colour for the best part of 87 minutes, but then scored the vital second goal in an enigmatic performance that drew criticism from fans and media. People are quick to forget his other 21 goals and where they have put PSG . Ibra had an off day, bit it is not like he has had too many this season. Even if it has followed two other disappointing showings, he now has three goals in two games against les Phoceens.

Finally, the continued selection of Marco Verratti is beginning to appear unjustified. The 20-year-old looked like a headless chicken at times against OM, devoid of the same confidence and swagger that saw him prosper at the start of the season. While he is an undoubted potential star, the diminutive Italian’s progress needs to be given time. A loan move next season does not seem such a bad idea. Beckham’s early form shows that he at least can equal Verratti’s presence on the pitch for now -- if not outweigh it -- and in this case experience should win out over youth for now.

OM enjoyed a lot of success down the flanks too, begging the question of whether the fullback positions remain a weakness for Ancelotti. Reinstated captain Christophe Jallet was disappointing and only some fantastic defensive blocks and interceptions just saved an at-times sloppy display from Maxwell from being exposed. Barton was unlucky for Elie Baup’s side; he did well and looked disciplined and totally dominated the midfield battle despite an all-action performance from PSG counterpart Blaise Matuidi. Tragically miscast as a pantomime villain, the Englishman was a candidate for man-of-the-match over the 90 minutes.

But the headlines will focus on Beckham. Whatever you think of the move and its motives, separate the man from the hype for one moment and take his debut for what it was. A good player was making his debut and proving that despite his age, he still has it in him to play at the top level. The desire is still there and crucially, so is the ability.

Now he and PSG need to do it all again on Wednesday night in the Coupe de France in a rematch.

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