“Olivier Giroud and his team-mates have only recently begun to discuss the title as a realistic objective but they are starting to enjoy their role as the unwelcome thorn in PSG’s side. At a recent conference about the future of French football, PSG sporting director Leonardo sparked controversy by accusing his club’s domestic rivals of devoting all their training sessions to “toros [piggy in the middle] and shots at goal”. When asked how his side had prepared for the game against Sochaux, Montpellier coach René Girard smiled and replied: “By doing toros all week.” PSG may loom large in Montpellier’s rear-view mirror, but they are clearly not the intimidating sight that Leonardo would like to think.”
My latest Pitchside Europe article for Eurosport, on how Montpellier are continuing to set the pace in the Ligue 1 title race, can be read here.
“PARIS — Champions Lille closed to within four points of top spot in Ligue 1 by winning 2-1 at home to Toulouse on Sunday and saw their grip on third place further strengthened by Lyon’s 1-1 draw at Rennes.”
My AFP report on the weekend’s Ligue 1 action, including an important win for Lille and another setback for Paris Saint-Germain, can be read here.
“PARIS — An injury-time winner from substitute Kévin Gameiro earned Paris Saint-Germain a narrow 2-1 victory at third-bottom Dijon on Sunday that preserved their place at the top of the Ligue 1 table.”
My AFP report on how PSG (just) kept their noses in front of Montpellier in the Ligue 1 title race, including a round-up of all the weekend’s main headlines, can be read here.
“PARIS — Ligue 1 title favourites Paris Saint-Germain returned to the top of the table after overwhelming third-bottom Ajaccio 4-1 at a rain-soaked Parc des Princes on Sunday.”
My AFP report on PSG’s return to the Ligue 1 summit, including a summary of all the weekend’s major stories in the French top flight, can be read here.
“PARIS — A last-minute goal by Mevlüt Erding earned Rennes a 1-1 draw at home to Lille on Sunday that prevented the French champions from galvanising their grip on third place and closing the gap on leaders Montpellier.”
My AFP round-up of the weekend’s Ligue 1 action, including setbacks for Lille and Marseille and an extraordinary 4-4 draw between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain that allowed Montpellier to go top, can be found here.
“PARIS — Montpellier proved their Ligue 1 title credentials by holding league leaders Paris Saint-Germain to a 2-2 draw in the top-of-the-table clash at Parc des Princes on Sunday.”
My AFP match report on Montpellier’s impressive draw at PSG, which contains a round-up of all the Ligue 1 headlines from the weekend, can be read here.
“PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain inched a point clear in Ligue 1 on Sunday following a 0-0 draw at Nice, after Ludovic Obraniak had netted a 93rd-minute winner for Bordeaux in an extraordinary 5-4 win at his former club Lille.”
My AFP round-up of the weekend’s matches in Ligue 1, including an astonishing nine-goal game at Lille and another match-changing performance by Olivier Giroud, can be read here.
The clue was in the number. “A press conference will take place on Wednesday 1 February at 15:30 at Parc des Princes to present Thiago Motta, who will wear the number 28,” read the brief statement released by Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. Motta is a European champion and an Italy international, who cost the not insignificant sum of €10 million, but he was not the star signing that PSG had been hoping to announce on the final day of the transfer window. To paraphrase Garry Cook’s famous remark about Richard Dunne, he doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue in Beijing.
There are vacant numbers in the current PSG squad list that could have adorned replica shirts liable to be torn off the rails in the club shop. Alexandre Pato might have chosen the number 11 shirt that he wore at Internacional and has sported at times for Brazil. The number eight that Kaká wears for Real Madrid is also unattributed. With Jérémy Ménez in possession of the number seven shirt and Mohamed Sissoko the number 23, David Beckham had been lined up for the number 32 jersey. After the Englishman’s abrupt volte-face, that shirt was earmarked for Carlos Tevez. But neither he, nor Beckham, nor Kaká, nor Pato will be seen in PSG’s iconic strip this season.
PSG made four signings in January – with Motta following Maxwell, Alex and new fourth-choice goalkeeper Ronan Le Crom through the door – but none of them were the marquee names that had held the local media in a state of permanent breathless excitement since the transfer window loomed onto the horizon in mid-December. Although Motta was relinquished reluctantly by Internazionale, Chelsea were quite happy to cede Alex and Maxwell left Barcelona with little fanfare.
There are few more glamorous locations than Paris and few clubs in the world capable of matching PSG’s huge spending power, but Ligue 1′s low international profile – coupled with the absence of European football at Parc des Princes in the second half of the season – has frustrated the club’s efforts to attract the kind of players who generate global interest.
“PARIS — Marseille dug deep to come from behind and win 2-1 at Rennes on Sunday, extending their winning run to seven games in all competitions and returning to within two points of the Champions League positions in Ligue 1.”
My AFP round-up of the weekend’s Ligue 1 matches, featuring a brace for Lille debutant Nolan Roux and a last-minute winner by Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud, can be found here.
“Rémy’s burgeoning partnership with Valbuena has been a key factor in the revival. Of the former Lyon striker’s nine league goals, five had been created by Valbuena, who tops the Ligue 1 assists chart with 10 decisive passes. The pair are motivated by a shared desire to secure places in France’s Euro 2012 squad and their understanding is underscored by an off-pitch friendship. “Sometimes, it feels like we’re the only ones playing and that everything will come off,” says Rémy.”
I’ve written a piece for ESPN Soccernet on how Didier Deschamps has transformed Marseille from a side that won just once in their opening 10 league games into one competing for silverware on four fronts. You can read it here.
“PARIS — With around 50 players leaving France for the Africa Cup of Nations this month, Ligue 1 clubs are having to juggle their resources in order to keep their seasons on track.”
My latest piece for AFP, on the different methods employed by Ligue 1 clubs to cover for players absent at the Africa Cup of Nations, can be read here.
“PARIS — Lille’s French title defence received a significant setback on Sunday as their 17-game unbeaten run came to an end in a 2-0 defeat at resurgent Marseille in which Loïc Rémy claimed both goals.”
Read my AFP match report on Marseille’s victory over Lille, as well as a round-up of all the weekend’s Ligue 1 action, here.
“PARIS — David Beckham may have elected not to sign up for the Paris Saint-Germain revolution, but new coach Carlo Ancelotti’s remit — to turn PSG into one of the world’s biggest clubs — remains the same.”
My latest feature for AFP analyses Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival at PSG and looks at his likely impact on the club’s transfer policy and the team’s tactical approach. You can read it here.
Ligue 1 has proved a fertile hunting ground for Premier League sides in recent years – not least for Newcastle United – and as the January transfer window opens, several names from the French top flight find themselves linked with clubs from the English elite. Football Further runs the rule over the players making the headlines and identifies which of them are likely to be on the move.
1. Eden Hazard (Lille)
Unless unforeseen misfortune befalls him, Hazard will leave Lille this year and, when he does so, he will join one of Europe’s most famous clubs, but he is unlikely to depart this month. Rudi Garcia’s side may have gone into the winter break four points behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain, but their performance in the 0-0 draw at Parc des Princes on December 18 proved that they are PSG’s equal and they remain the most cohesive outfit in the division. With their title defence on track and no European distractions to contend with in the second half of the campaign, Lille will not yield Hazard in January unless they receive an astronomical bid. The player himself is in no hurry.
2. Yoann Gourcuff (Lyon)
Mention of Gourcuff’s name in the United Kingdom tends to conjure up memories of the match-winning performances and magisterial goals that characterised his performances in Bordeaux’s 2008-09 title-winning campaign, but Ligue 1 observers will attest that that player has not been seen for the best part of two years. An exhausted bystander as Bordeaux’s title defence crumbled in the second half of the 2009-10 season, Gourcuff endured a wretched World Cup and has failed to settle since joining Lyon in a €22 million deal in August 2010. Lyon are looking to recoup as much of his original transfer fee as possible but, despite rumours of a €12 million offer from Zenit Saint-Petersburg, a loan switch looks more probable. Arsène Wenger is a known admirer but, as he admitted recently, even with Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby injured, Arsenal are well stocked in the centre of the pitch.
“They say it’s because I’m a sexy boy. The English are crazy!”
- Yohan Cabaye, on the ‘Dreamboat’ nickname bestowed upon him by Newcastle’s fans
“Behind the ‘big guns’ like Chelsea or Manchester [United], there’s also Sunderland or Wolverhampton. French players who are used to getting on the ball end up watching it fly over their heads for 90 minutes.”
- Marseille sporting director José Anigo has some words of advice for any budding Ligue 1 talents dreaming of plying their trade in the Premier League
“If you want us to just stick it in the box like I’ve seen Stoke City do, you’ll have to change the coach. I forbid it.”
- Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti shares his thoughts on the football doctrine advocated by Tony Pulis
“Without wanting to be unkind, it’s difficult when there are only four of you defending. Sometimes you feel like you’re on your own. When you watch Barça, everyone defends – even Messi!”
- Laurent Koscielny feels a bit exposed in the Arsenal back four
“Sometimes I tell jokes and Joe Cole and I look at each other and we’re the only ones laughing.”
- Vincent Enyeama on the language barrier in the Lille changing room
“Bon match pour… my team – mon équipe – et… I’m very happy!”
- Ambushed by Canal+’s touchline reporter Laurent Paganelli, Joe Cole has a stab at his first interview in the language of his new homeland after Lille’s 3-1 win over Lyon
“Once again I’m attacked by Jean-Michel Larqué. I hope with all my heart I don’t end up like him after my career, but there’s no chance of that because I’m not an idiot.”
- Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Jérémie Janot has a pop at 63-year-old television pundit Jean-Michel Larqué, who had criticised him for letting in two late goals at Lens
- Aly Cissokho’s considered response to a supporter who told him to “go and join Arles-Avignon” during a Lyon training session in April
“Although the score was already 3-0, he’d been taking the piss out of us with the ball for a few minutes, dribbling past his opponent and then waiting so he could dribble past him again. It’s a lack of respect. Even his Lille team-mates said he was going too far.”
- Nancy captain André Luiz takes a dim view of Eden Hazard’s showboating
“Marseille come up to Paris to fuck PSG!”
- Microphone in hand, match-winner Taye Taiwo gets a bit carried away during the Coupe de la Ligue post-match celebrations by leading the OM fans in a chorus of one of their favourite chants
“It was a good response to people who don’t know football. It’ll make them shut their big mouths.”
- Modibo Maiga relishes his brace in a 3-0 defeat of Toulouse after stumbling into the viewfinder of the Sochaux boo boys
“At that moment, I told myself that they’d gone mad and didn’t realise. Today I know that I was wrong: they knew exactly what they were doing. They even closed the curtains on the bus to hide themselves from the cameras… With hindsight, I see them above all as a bunch of thoughtless brats.”
- Raymond Domenech is still struggling to let go of the 2010 World Cup