PSG Stumble Hands Monaco First Ligue 1 Title in 17 Years
A 3-1 loss, two players sent off, and what could potentially be the death knell for Emery’s time as PSG manager; everything happened in what ended up as a night that everyone associated with PSG will want to forget. Given their own title aspirations were torn asunder by a draw with Toulouse last weekend, Nice were given a final chance to have a direct say in the title race, it was a chance that they did not turn down. A 3-1 victory against what finally became a 9 man PSG side, showed why they have been such a breath of fresh air in the league this season.
Mario Balotelli got Nice off to a fantastic start with a low, firm strike past Kevin Trapp in the 26th minute. The goal was the spark that set the game alight as PSG then went in search of the equaliser, one that ultimately never came. Three minutes into the second half, Ricardo Periera threw the home support into raptures as a stunning curled effort doubled the home side’s lead and threw PSG into attacking overload. Knowing that only a win would keep them realistically in the title race, PSG pressed for goals, seeing a glimmer of hope in the 64th minute when a powerful Thiago Silva header was helped goalward by Marquinhos to pull one back. That was to be the final positive for the visitors however. Thiago Motta saw red in the 90th minute when the referee deemed him to have channelled his inner Zidane and head butted Paul Baysse.
What looked like a bad day at the office soon turned into a nightmare for the capital club, a lofted Nice cross was turned home by Nice player Anastasios Donis to make it 3-1. To add insult to injury a rash, late, frustrated, studs up challenge from Angel Di Maria resulted in the winger receiving a straight red for his efforts. PSG being reduced to 9 men in the final three minutes through frustrated challenges seemed a fitting way to effectively end their seemingly disappointing league form this season.
Unless Monaco somehow fail to win 2 of their four remaining games (a feat highly improbable given their hardest remaining fixture is 7th place Saint-Etienne) their point and goal difference advantage will see them finish the season as champions for the first time since the 1999/2000 season. A deserving title for the principality side, as their willingness to give young players the opportunity to shine has paid dividends in their fast paced, attacking football.
Whilst Emery is still the PSG manager, few expect that to be the case at season’s end given the Parisian club’s intolerance for anything other than total success. Laurent Blanc, Emery’s predecessor, is the symbol for the PSG hierarchy’s complete lack of patience. PSG, under Blanc, won two domestic trebles in two years (in addition the Trophée des Champions), Blanc’s final season his domestic treble included finishing 31 points clear of second. 11 trophies in 3 seasons was not enough though, and Blanc’s lack of success in the Champions League was enough for him to receive his marching orders. Given this history, failing to win the league title would be inexcusable for the Spanish coach; his side’s total capitulation against Barcelona, surrendering a 4-0 first leg win will only provide more ammunition for the club president.
Despite potentially being able to finish this season with a treble of sorts (Trophée des Champions, Coupe de France, and the Coupe de la Ligue) it would seem to have been a disappointing one for Emery’s PSG. However, if you look carefully at the results, that perspective is inaccurate and really hinges on 2 factors: Monaco’s resurgence this season, and one night in Barcelona.
It is easy to see how this season, upon initial glance, can seem somewhat of a let down though. From a 31 point lead at the top of the table, to coming second; from Champions League quarter-finals to losing in the knock out round. This season PSG had lost as many games, two of them, by the end of September as they had done all of last season.
This however, is where a pause for clarity, to not get carried away is necessary. If PSG win their final three matches then they finish the season on 89 points, only 7 off their previous season’s total, not an extreme slide. Monaco however could finish this season on 95 points, only one point less than what PSG amassed last season, and 30 points greater than what they themselves achieved last season. Other sides in the league are also improved this season, PSG’s only competitor last season was Lyon, a side that finished the season with 65 points as opposed to Nice this season who can still finish the season with 85 points. So upon a more detailed look, it becomes clear that PSG have not fallen off the perch, the teams around them have improved dramatically. This makes it clear that simply saying “Emery’s side are not as good as Blanc’s” simply does not hold up to questioning.
The other factor that a PSG manager is judged so heavily on is success, or lack thereof, in the world’s premier club competition, the Champions League. Last season the death knell for Blanc’s stewardship of the club was being removed in the competition’s quarter finals. They lost to a Manchester City side 3-2 on aggregate after a 2-2 match in Paris and a 1-0 loss in Manchester.
In contrast to this season, one match aside, their Champions League form has not been terrible, they finished top of a group that contained Arsenal and lost marginally on aggregate to Barcelona. What makes this all seem so much worse though, is the manner in which they lost to Barcelona; a complete capitulation in the capital of Cataluña. Incredibly questionable refereeing decisions aside, PSG played a woeful match and deservedly lost the game. If you take a wider viewpoint however and balance the away leg with the rampaging performance of the first leg and all does not seem as dark as it perhaps does at first glance.
When looked at with the big picture in mind, PSG have had a season to remember. They can possibly have 3 domestic trophies, and have had a chance to give younger players such as Presnel Kimpembe much needed game time. They have not had quite the unqualified success that their board, and fans desire but neither have they had the desolate season that some seem to paint them as having. Ultimately the rise of Monaco should be seen as a positive trend for Ligue 1, and not as an indictment upon Unai Emery and his side.