Ligue 1 Review: PSG being at the top of the table

Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, left, challenges PSG’s Layvin Kurzawa during the Champions League group H soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

For the first time this season, Paris Saint-Germain finished the weekend top of the table. The inevitable was delayed for two months and four days; reality has set in for rival French clubs, who realize any chance of dethroning the Parisians will hinge on a miracle not seen since AS Monaco’s improbable title run in the 2016-17 season.  

Despite the victory, manager Thomas Tuchel is still under an immense amount of pressure. Not only is he expected to beat all Ligue 1 competition, but it’s honestly not what he is being graded on. Shareholding organization Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), President Nasser Al-Khelaifi and sporting director Leonardo Araújo only care about winning the UEFA Champions League. So, although he won, domestic success is expected and is not the reason for the massive amount of money that is pumped into the club every year.  

Although the victory on Saturday, Oct. 24 at the Parc des Princes now seems meaningless, credit must still be given to the German manager, who — along with all other coaches in world football — have had to deal with managing around the COVID-19 pandemic, which has, at points, hindered the options available, which ultimately has a negative impact on the squad.  

PSG’s head coach Thomas Tuchel watches from the touchline during the Champions League group H soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Tuchel has not been helping his cause amongst the Parisian faithful, with his starting 11 featuring defender Marquinhos and center midfielder Danilo Pereira playing out of position, swapping their roles much to the chagrin of PSG supporters. At the time, this supported rumors that the German was doing everything in his power to get fired.  

Once the game started, we would realize this was not the case, as the scoring came early for Paris. Left-back Mitchel Bakker sent in a perfect cross to the near post, which was slotted into the net by deadline-day signing Moise Kean. The Italian international would then score again in the 23rd minute, tapping it into an empty net after attacking midfielder Neymar squared it to him in the box.  

This signing was questionable at best. Although he showed world class promise at Juventus, a lack of form ultimately sent him to Everton, a mid-table club in the Premier League. After struggling there, it came as a surprise that he arrived at the French capital on loan. However, he is clearly showing that the promising ability he showed as a youth is still there; moreover, the depth he will provide at striker will be immense, with Argentine Mauro Icardi — the only other forward on the team — currently injured.  

Two great Neymar passes were the catalysts of the third and fourth goals, with forward Kylian Mbappé getting on the end of each scoring opportunity. The French forward would make a run in behind the defense in the 82nd minute, with the Brazilian playing him through. Mbappé still had a defender to beat, cutting out and smashing it through the goalkeeper’s legs to make it 3-0.  

PSG’s Neymar is challenged by Manchester United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka, right, and Scott McTominay during the Champions League group H soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

The fourth and final goal saw Neymar cut in and play an excellent ball to right back Alessandro Florenzi, who was not picked up and found himself unmarked at the far post. He would square it to the French forward, bagging his second goal to finish off last place Dijon. With this victory, PSG now find themselves top of the table with 18 points, while Dijon continue to sit in last place with two points.  

Questions will still be asked of Tuchel and his gameplan. For starters, the defense and midfield looked shambolic, and that is putting it lightly. Dijon found gaps throughout Paris’s final third, and if it wasn’t for poor finishing, would most likely have made a much more difficult game for the league leaders. What Tuchel will have to figure out is if swapping Marquinhos and Pereira is really necessary; the team’s defensive shape was just as bad as on Tuesday, which saw lazy defending ultimately give Manchester United the victory. Clearly, the swap made on Saturday had no positive effect on the team’s shape, which will force Tuchel to truly identify what the problem is before their Champions League match against İstanbul Başakşehir F.K. 

André Villas-Boas’ Olympique de Marseille squad did not maintain their poor midweek form. Although their loss to Greek side Olympiacos F.C. was inexcusable, they were able to bounce back away from home and in difficult conditions to get back to their winning ways and prepare themselves for their next European opponent.,  

“Les Olympiens” traveled to the Stade Yves Allainmat to face an FC Lorient team who had only won one match in their last five outings. In Ligue 1 competition, Marseille were just coming off a convincing 3-1 victory over FC Girondins de Bordeaux. 

Olympiacos’ Ousseynou Ba, left, trie to stop Marseille’s Florian Thauvin during the Champions League group C soccer match between Olympiakos and Marseille at Georgios Karaiskakis stadium in Piraeus port, near Athens, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

It was a definitely an ugly victory for Boas’ men, with defensive lapses nearly costing them multiple times, and a lack of creativity ultimately leading to meaningless possession. It would be unfair to say that “Les Olympiens” did not create throughout the game, because at points they did have promising moments, especially when moving the ball from side to side.  

Despite this, there was still a gap in the creative department. Boas putting the electric winger Florian Thauvin could be perceived as both a blessing and a curse, with Thauvin being a dangerous presence in and around the 18-yard box; by the same token, Thauvin being placed so high up the pitch limits the creativity ability of the squad, especially with attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet being left out of the matchday squad for rotation purposes.  

A 53rd minute corner would be the only goal scored by either team, with center back Leonardo Balerdi heading it into the back of the net. Lorient goalkeeper Paul Nardi helped Marseille’s cause, missing the ball completely when attempting to catch it at the far post, allowing Balerdi to put it into the back of the net.  

No matter how ugly the victory may have been, Boas and his players will take anything they can get, especially with how difficult it has been for them to get all three points this season. They now move up to fourth in the table with 15 points, while Lorient fall to 17th in the table with seven points. Marseille now focuses on their difficult midweek fixture in the Champions League against English side Manchester City at the Stade Vélodrome. They must not make the same defensive mistakes against the Citizens, as Pep Guardiola’s side will certainly make them pay.  

Lyon’s head coach Rudi Garcia gives instructions during the French League One soccer match between Lyon and Monaco at Groupama stadium in Decines, near Lyon, central France, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

It has been a rough start for Rudi Garcia since his start to life at Olympique Lyonnais. Taking over in the reigns in 2019, he has had to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, which ultimately hindered his ability to implement a consistent style of play. Although their Champions League campaign was admirable, it would be fair to say that they got extremely lucky along the way, especially against Juventus, with terrible refereeing decisions allowing them to advance to the quarterfinals.  

With that said, the start of 2020 has not been any easier. They are still in search of a style of play and had only won two games this season going into what was perceived to be a challenging bout against Niko Kovač’s AS Monaco on Sunday, Oct. 25. However, the matchup would end up being anything but competitive. 

Midfielder Houssem Aouar squared it to forward Memphis Depay in the box to open up the scoring for Lyon in the 12th minute. He celebrated by pulling up his shirt to display a message to fellow Holland international Virgil Van Dijk, who recently tore his ACL. The message said the following: “Virgil, stay strong my brother.” 

Depay would then be the catalyst for the team’s second goal, playing a through ball to right midfielder Tino Kadewere, who then crossed it into left midfielder Karl Toko Ekambi’s path, slotting it home and making it 2-0 for “Les Gones.” Things kept getting worse for Monaco, when a one-two combination between Ekambi and Depay led to Ekambi being taken down in the box by right back Djibril Sidibé. Aouar converted the penalty, and it was 3-0 Lyon with four minutes left until the half. 

Monaco’s Axel Disasi challenges for the ball with Lyon’s Karl Toko Ekambi during the French League One soccer match between Lyon and Monaco at Groupama stadium in Decines, near Lyon, central France, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Monaco’s defensive woes continued to be taken advantage of by Lyon’s clinical attacking players, with the defense practically giving the ball to Toko Ekambi to score his second of the match, and the team’s fourth. An early second half penalty converted by Monaco forward Wissam Ben Yedder would not be enough to spark a comeback, with Lyon convincingly taking all three points, moving to sixth in the table with 13 points, while Monaco fell to 12th with eleven points.  

The end of the transfer window was truly beneficial to Garcia, who now has a squad with players fully committed to the success of the team. This performance has been a long time coming for the club’s faithful fans, who have always believed their squad could never live up to the potential they had to offer. Now, Garcia will look to continue steering Lyon on the right path, working toward finishing in the top five in order to qualify for next season’s European competitions.   

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