Before we get into the top news stories of the weekend, it is important to acknowledge the passing of former Argentine international Diego Maradona, who passed away at the age of 60 on Wednesday, Nov. 25 due to a heart attack. He was residing at his home in Tigre, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, after undergoing emergency brain surgery to treat a subdural hematoma.
Largely considered one of the greatest players of all time, Maradona captained Argentina to their second ever World Cup in 1986, and won Napoli two Serie A championships — something that had never been done by a team in Italy’s southern peninsula, the Coppa Italia in 1987 and the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) in 1989.
Tributes poured from across Europe and the world, with the Paris-Saint Germain playing a tribute video before their match and applauding for one minute in his honor. Furthermore, a banner was placed in the seats which read: “¡Adiós el 10! ¡Descansa en paz¡ #Maradona” or “Goodbye number 10! Rest in peace! #Maradona.”
With that, let’s get into the drama-filled weekend.
France’s premier footballing division kicked off Round 12 of the season this weekend. The increased competitiveness of the league is something that has not been seen for quite some time, sending shivers down the spine of the Parisian giants, PSG, who find themselves fending off six legitimate title contenders. Even when their crown was shockingly stripped from them by AS Monaco in the 2016-17 season, it was only a two-horse race, with the closest contender to either being an OGC Nice team who sat nine points behind second-place Paris.
Additionally, the players’ relationship with head coach Thomas Tuchel seems to be at an all-time low, meaning we may just have the perfect set of circumstances that would ultimately lead to another team being crowned French champion.
Sunday’s final set of fixtures gave us the confirmed league table going into Round 13. The top six are as follows: Paris Saint Germain sit first with 25 points while Olympique Lyonnais, AS Monaco and Montpellier Hérault SC — who sit second, third and fourth, respectively — all sit two points back from league leaders Paris, each having accrued 23 points this season. LOSC Lille sit in fifth with 22 points, while Olympique de Marseille sit in sixth with 21 points.
“You’re sounding the alarms in November?” I’ll admit, that’s a valid point. After all, the season does not conclude until early May, meaning it may be much too early to begin questioning the ground on which the Qatari backed club stands on. However, the fact they are crumbling from the inside makes me believe my concern is valid. For example, winger Ángel Di María looked visibly upset when he came off in “Les Parisiens” midweek fixture against RB Leipzig in the UEFA Champions League, refusing to shake Tuchel’s hand or look him in the face, even when the German manager attempted to get in front of the Argentine.
More worrisome, the team seems to be completely disregarding what the German is telling them, with either forward Kylian Mbappé or attacking midfielder Neymar Jr. choosing to play hero ball. An identity is lacking, and tactics are nowhere to be found. This was never more prevalent than in the club’s 2-2 draw against FC Girondins De Bordeaux on Saturday, Nov. 28, which is where we’ll begin.
Before we go into the details of the match, it is worth noting that Tuchel has gone with a different starting 11 in every game this season, both domestically and in Europe. This time, 18-year-old Timothee Pembele was given the green light to start in defense, forming the center-back partnership with Presnel Kimpembe. However, his performance in the early stages of the match made us question whether putting in an inexperienced youngster was worth it, especially when they are looking to build momentum before a crucial Champions League battle against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Although a 10th minute Bordeaux corner would open up the scoring for “Les Girondins,” it would be a Paris player who put it into the back of the net. Which one, you ask? Oh, well, the one who has not played for the senior squad all season, Pembele. Now, I will definitely put the blame on his shoulders for falling asleep at the front post, which ultimately let forward Josh Maja get the upper hand, and — in a panic to recover — led to his own goal. Despite this, I still ask myself, was such a drastic change in defense necessary? An experienced center-back in Danilo Pereira would have been the much wiser choice, especially considering the situation the club finds themselves in. They blew a 2-0 lead against Monaco last week, falling 3-2, and desperately needed an injection of confidence before their trip to England.
Although a Neymar penalty in the 27th minute and a goal by forward Moise Kean one minute later put Paris up 2-1, another error by Pembele in the second half would cost them all three points. The academy prospect failed to pressure center midfielder Yacine Adli at the top of the box, which gave him a free shot on net, which he slotted into goalkeeper Sergio Rico’s near post.
That would be how the contest finished; a lack of experience in the back ultimately cost them all three points. Moreover, the question surrounding management at the club will only serve as a distraction in a time when tunnel vision is not an option, but a necessity.
Lyonnais defeated Stade de Reims in a relatively uneventful 3-0 thrashing at the Groupama Stadium thanks to goals by forward Toko Ekambi, midfielder Bruno Guimarães and winger Moussa Dembele. Monaco built on the momentum that saw them stun the club from Paris, pummeling Nîmes Olympique 3-0 at the Stade Louis II. The goals came from right winger Sofiane Diop, left winger Gelson Martins and forward Kevin Volland. Both managers — Rudi Garcia for Lyon, and Niko Kovač for Monaco, respectively — share similarities in that it has taken a while for their squads to “click.” Now that they seem to be getting comfortable not only with each other, but the philosophies of their managers, they may become a force to be reckoned throughout the rest of the season.
Lille drew 1-1 to 16th place AS Saint-Étienne away from home at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard. This is a shocking result for a club that has been on fire this season, both domestically and in the Europa League. Although forward Jonathan Ikoné was able to tie it up at one in the second half after forward Wahbi Kazri gave “Les Verts” the lead off a penalty in the first half, it would not be enough, with manager Christophe Galtier having to accept the point. Manager Claude Puel will not be under as much pressure with this result, but will still be heavily scrutinized because he has failed to take advantage of a young, promising squad.
Marseille defeated FC Nantes 3-1 at the Stade Velodrome, with the attacking trio of winger Florian Thauvin, attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet and forward Darío Benedetto all getting on the scoresheet. Attacking midfielder Ludovic Blas would score a consolation goal for “La Maison Jaune” late in the second half.
Whereas any other coach would be applauded for this dominant victory, the same cannot be said for Marseille manager André Villas-Boas, whose team have failed to win or score a goal in the Champions League this season. Their failure to win means they have now gone 13 consecutive games without a win in Europe’s most prestigious competition, which dates back to the 2011-12 campaign.
Although they did win, the implosion of a team that had not been in the Champions League since 2013-14 will most certainly leave a sour taste in the mouths of the “Les Olympiens” faithful, unless they somehow win the League title, something that — although probable — seems highly unlikely.