Individual brilliance sees PSG past Rennes

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Damien Meyer/Getty ImagesJeremy Menez pointed PSG to victory on Saturday at Rennes.

Paris Saint-Germain recorded a vital 2-0 victory over Rennes at the Stade de la Route de Lorient that keeps them marching towards a first title in 19 years. A typically Jekyll and Hyde performance from Carlo Ancelotti's side blew a disappointing first half showing away with a moment of pure genius from Jeremy Menez and a David Beckham-inspired opportunist finish from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the second. The victory re-establishes PSG's seven point lead over second-placed Marseille and sees the title inch ever-closer for the capital club, providing the perfect preparation for Wednesday's Champions League quarterfinal second leg clash with Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

- Match report: Rennes 0-2 PSG
- Silva may miss Barcelona clash
- Ancelotti to award Beckham form

The 2-0 scoreline looks comfortable but you wouldn't have predicted it at halftime as Les Parisiens struggled to create many clear-cut chances, although Ibrahimovic did miss one gilt-edged opening that would have been savaged had PSG not done the business in the second period. Ancelotti's side went into the game without a win in 10 in Brittany -- Ronaldinho was on the score sheet the last time the side from the capital won at the Stade de la Route de Lorient (2002) -- and the Italian's much-changed team struggled for the first 45.

Without the influential Thiago Silva, absent because of a slight knee injury, the defence lacked the same authority it boasted on Tuesday against Barcelona, particularly in the first half. Mamadou Sakho was given the chance to prove himself alongside Zoumana Camara who was filling in for the injured Alex who didn't travel to Rennes. Gregory Van Der Wiel was also given a start, while Maxwell reprised his role at left back. The Dutchman followed up an impressive performance against Montpellier with a superb showing once again that could see him contending for a surprise starting berth at left back on Wednesday if Ancelotti opts for a more attacking formation centred solely on pace. The former Ajax man contributed a vital block to deny substitute Anders Konradsen in the second half with the match delicately poised at 1-0 to the visitors.

Much was made of Ancelotti's decision to start Beckham over Marco Verratti against Barcelona on Tuesday, but the Italian got the nod over the Englishman in Brittany with a chance to impress his coach ahead of the return leg. He didn't take it. Booked for the tenth time in Ligue 1 this season, the 20-year-old was substituted at halftime for Beckham, and showed exactly why the Englishman's experience was favoured over his youthful exuberance (sometimes over-exuberance) in the first leg.

There can be no disputing the yellow card he received for a rash challenge on Rennes' Sadio Diallo, but the weakness of Verratti's performance was in the way he handled the ball and not his ill-discipline. The Italian international's habit of holding onto the ball for too long has started to grate as it often plays his team into unnecessary trouble; he was guilty of this once again on a number of occasions. His petulance in kicking a ball out of play after he was adjudged to have carried the ball over the by-line midway through the half though was another indication of his lack of experience.

Verratti is a supreme talent but one with an obvious flaw in his short temper, the constant over-coddling he receives by virtue of his sensational early season performances has to stop. He will develop into a tremendous talent, and if the rumours that he is set to sign a new long-term deal at the club are true, then he will do it in the French capital. However, he is not responsible enough to start the team's biggest matches just yet. Ancelotti's decision to play Beckham from the start on Tuesday was justified by this performance from the Italian. Yet, as he revealed in his pre-match press conference, his decision to start the Englishman on Wednesday could prove more controversial.

PSG need energy and individual brilliance against Barcelona in Spain next week to stand any chance of beating Tito Vilanova's side, with or without Lionel Messi. Minus the jaded Blaise Matuidi who is suspended, Verratti's stamina and work-rate is required at the Camp Nou, yet he can't be consistently relied upon as he showed in Brittany. The necessary individual brilliance, as has so often bailed out Ancelotti's side since his arrival, could instead come from Beckham. However, in Rennes it came from an entirely different source but one who should start in Barcelona for entirely those reasons.

Eleven minutes into the second half Menez underlined his starting credentials ahead of Wednesday, demonstrating how effective his direct approach to goal can be when chasing a goal (as PSG will be next week). The French international produced a stunning solo effort that saw him dance around four opponents before firing a low finish past Benoit Costil, an absolutely sensational goal worthy of Messi. Ancelotti's side need that directness again in Spain, and despite a part-sauntering, part-genius performance from the 25-year-old, he can be relied on to raise his game in the biggest matches. Beckham did contribute somewhat to the win; his late goal-bound effort was nodded over the line by Ibrahimovic to ensure the win with the 37-year-old's first direct assist since joining the club.

The victory was vital and all the more impressive given the team's concerted effort to overcome their continental hangover from the first half and raise their game in the second period. It was a deserved 2-0 victory, but looking ahead to Barcelona there are a number of headaches for Ancelotti to contend with. Silva's minor knee injury is a huge concern; Sakho now has a big chance of starting given that Alex was also injured for the game. Beckham starts as Ancelotti has already confirmed, so it is between Verratti and Clement Chantome for a place in midfield, if the formation from Tuesday is kept the same. The Frenchman grew into the Rennes clash after a slow start and played the full 90 minutes. But with Thiago Motta rested too but now back in training, only either Verratti or Chantome are surely in contention to play against Motta's former club Barca.

Overall, it was a fantastic day for PSG, a hugely important win that once again allows them to focus fully on their European commitments having performed their domestic duties adequately as they did Montpellier. With a number of key players rested, Ancelotti will expect a mammoth effort from his side come Wednesday night.

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