Saturday, March 30, 2013

The view - PSG vs Montpellier

Been a while since I last wrote one of these, because it's been a while since I traveled. The last game I went to (strangely) was PSG vs Evian last season and here's what I wrote about that one.

Well, this time I was actually looking forward to going to the game. The opponents were Montpellier (Champions of France 2012) and unlike in the past 2 occasions that I visited the Parc des Princes, this time there was a big buzz around the stadium (and the city) as Barcelona are coming to town in a few days.

On a personal note, I was looking forward to seeing David Beckham (for the first time) and Zlatan Ibrahimovich (first time too) as I'd never gotten the chance to watch them live. Once again, I was sat in the "Boulogne" section of the stadium, but this time on the upper tier (a.k.a the freezing zone) and along with 2 friends (one Real Madrid supporter and one PSG supporter).  
Prior to kick-off, the sub-zero temperatures (and it's the end of March!) began kicking in and there were a few things I began to notice that weren't at the ground previously. Firstly, there were loads, and I mean LOADS, of plastic flags (you know the ones Rafa Benitez loves) on the chairs for the fans to pick up and "create an atmosphere". Secondly, on the screens at the stadium, they put up a lot of video compilations building up PSG and its players as the greatest thing in the world. So when the video "montage" of PSG vs Barcelona came up, the fans were actually celebrating as if it were the actual game (more on PSG v Barca later). Finally, the security levels have stepped up and the fans have become "calmer" - that's mainly thanks to tickets being more expensive allowing only a certain "class" of people to attend and basically slowly (very slowly) changing the crowd at the stadium.

As for the game itself, the first half PSG seemed to have one eye on the Barcelona game and weren't really giving it their all. Gregory Van Der Wiel and Clement Chantome were often exposed on the right hand side, even though Chantome could've given PSG the lead within a minute (thanks to a brilliant ball from the otherwise ineffective Javier Pastore).


There were few chances from both sides (with Montpellier seemingly happy to allow PSG to keep possession). However, whenever Zlatan had the ball you could feel something special was about to happen. His first touch is exquisite, his vision brilliant and his ruthlessness breathtaking. This was evident when he shot a 20-yard volley just wide. With Thiago Silva and Alex untroubled and leading from the back, it was Marco Verrati and Blaise Mathuidi who were making sure Montpellier's midfield were ineffective (might I just add that I think Mathuidi is probably the best upcoming defensive midfielder in world football).

There were two penalty shouts that seemed pretty obvious from where we were sat, but somehow the referee missed them. 
As half-time arrived, the subdued PSG performance had to be upped and when the second half began, the tempo had changed. 

Zlatan led the line. He dropped deep to build the play. For those who consider him as just another goalscorer, when you see him live you'll know he does so much more than that. His work rate is impressive as well. Chasing down lost balls and pressuring the keeper whenever he has the chance, he does more than we think. His powerful knock-down created a great chance for Menez who struck wide. Montpellier settled well and barely troubled Sirigu's net as a draw seemed likely. Ancelotti's changes were made on the 71st minute with Beckham coming on for Verratti and Gameiro coming on for Chantome.

Now, make of this what you will, but I was genuinely surprised at Beckham's performance. The initials cries from the fans behind me were cynical comments about Beckham such as "hope you don't mess your hair". But his first 3 touches were sublime. All one touches that spread the play so well that it was reminiscent of his younger years. Don't know about you, but I think he's still got it. Those 20 minute cameos could come in handy for PSG at some point. His experience and vision are evident.

As PSG pounded the Montpellier defence, it was only a matter of time before they scored and on the 80th minute, some good link up play between Menez and Zlatan, ended in the Swede giving an unselfish pass to Gameiro who tapped in from close range as all the players ran to their man man Zlatan to celebrate. The Parc Des Princes had come to life and the home side nearly grabbed a second goal when Beckham's smart low freekick found Ibrahimovich which went inches wide.

All in all, a decent performance, but with Barca coming up they're going to have to raise their game if they want to get anything out of it. PSG's right hand side is weak and way too exposed way too often. With Jordi Alba bombing down the left quite regularly, it wouldn't surprise me to see Barcelona score from that side of the pitch. As for the rest of the team, if Zlatan plays well and leads the troops, we might see an upset on the cards. But whatever happens, be sure that if PSG get a positive result against the Catalans, it'll be thanks to their noisy fans, more than their players, who'll make sure to intimidate Messi and co. The countdown is on.


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