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French clubs in Europe: PSG sparkle, Monaco impress, Guingamp triumph and Lille & St Étienne draw

Ligue 1 teams were involved in 5 fixtures already this week in European competitions. A round-up of all the action across 3 days which saw the French contingent remain unbeaten throughout.

PSG 3-2 Barcelona

To have a potentially future-defining match so early on the season for France’s premier club was a new experience, but one in which they ultimately thrived in. Manager Laurent Blanc’s job was on the line after struggling for Ligue 1 form in recent weeks, with PSG remaining 5 points off the pace in France top flight. Les Parisiens have always seem to step up for the big occasions and Tuesday night was no exception. Whether you were marvelling at the ferocious focus of David Luiz or the measured majesty of Marquinhos at the back, every man in blue on that pitch played their part in PSG’s first victory over the Catalan giants in three attempts under the QSI regime.

An end to end affair, played at the highest of tempos throughout, PSG’s enigmatic midfield worked tirelessly to surpress the the likes of Iniesta and Messi from damagingly influencing the game. PSG struck early after Lucas Moura’s delivery found David Luiz from a free-kick and the big-haired Brazilian was allowed time to take a touch and shoot home in the 10th minute. 

Barcelona hit back immediately, with some of the finest interplay that the Parc des Princes has ever seen between Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, before the latter player precisely prodded home (11th min). But the Catalan club could not take the game by the scruff of its neck when they were in ascendency and their shambolic organisation from set pieces was exploited again, this time by Marco Verratti who had a free header at the back post from a corner in the 26th. PSG went in at half time ahead, with Barcelona struggling to penetrate the central attacking parts of the pitch where Neymar and Messi often derive the most joy. PSG continued to force them wide in the second half, but Dani Alves and Jordi Alba’s crosses were logically ineffective considering the height discrepancy between the home side’s defenders and Barça’s forwards. PSG’s counter-attacking threat was far superior, pioneered by the proficient Javier Pastore whose impressive form this season seemingly knows no bounds. He initiated the move for Les Parisiens’ 3rd goal, with van der Wiel fantastically crafting a cross into the utter most dangerous area in the penalty box that was expectedly dispatched by a flying Blaise Matuidi. 

The Parc started rocking, but again PSG were caught in the moment. Just 2 minutes after the French international’s goal, Neymar got one back after a ball into the box from Dani Alves was not dealt with by PSG and the Brazilian’s angled volley finish proved a delight, but not to the onlooking Parisian crowd. In a nervy final 30 minutes, PSG held on. With 3 goals, you might have been surprised that Edinson Cavani did not convert. He had about ten chances on goal, but the defensive contribution he made fatigued him to the extent that he was not able to be clinical in front of goal. This, married with his serious lack of current confidence, was a negative on an otherwise joyous occasion for the Ligue 1 title holders. 

Zenit 0-0 Monaco

90 minutes that we’ll never get back. A dreary affair, but AS Monaco certainly showed they deserve to be mixing with Europe’s very best. AS Monaco started brightly, with the ever-positive Layvin Kurzawa continuing to hustle forward and force openings. While the openings were there for Monaco throughout, the chances were not. Berbatov with a little more composure could have scored in the 3rd minute, so to Ocampos in the 44th if he had kept the half-volley a little lower, but, especially in the second half, Zenit’s goal threat was greater. Spearheaded by Villas-Boas’ enigmatic captain Danny, it was striker Rondon who frustrated the Russian crowd.

Hulk was delightful when on the ball at times, but his runs off it were less memorable and his pace was not matched by an otherwise slower Zenit attack. ASM sit pretty with 4 points from 2 games in Group C and face bottom side Benfica next. Jardim’s boys are certainly more resilient in Europe than domestically, at least for now.

Guingamp 2-0 PAOK

Finally some good news for the Brittany outfit. The Ligue 1 league table currently makes for dim viewing if you are a Guingampais, with EAG propping up the table dead last. They needed a reaction tonight in the Europa League, especially after being so unequivocally thrashed in the first group game against Fiorentina. The leaders of the Greek top flight were well beaten tonight and Guingamp had a hatful of chances in the first half to go ahead, but, as has often been the case this season since the departure of Mustapha Yatabaré, failed to convert. 

Newcastle United loanee Sylvain Marveaux would quickly calm the crowd’s nerves after half-time, with two quality finishes. The first, sneaking around the back post to execute a precise shot into the bottom corner after an initial save from the Greek goalkeeper. His next goal, just three minutes later in the 50th of the game, was a beautifully crafted free-kick from just outside the area which was delightfully placed out of Giakoumis’ reach. Other good news for EAG was the lively and well-intentioned Ronnie Schwartz up top tonight, who, failed to take his chances but was getting in reassuring positions. The Dane has so far struggled to adapt to the more physically demanding French league. EAG play bottom side Minsk next and should certainly take another 3 points from that one. 

Wolfsburg 1-1 Lille

Lille really didn’t deserve in points against Wolfsburg tonight, and it was thanks to the Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama who is rapidly confirming (if there was still any doubt) his claim to the title of Ligue 1’s best goalkeeper. Not only did the Bundesliga side dominate possession, but Josuha Guilavogui, Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic all had first half chances to score. 

In truth, it was a real case of hanging on for Lille until the 75th minute when Corchia won a penalty after his ball in was adjudged to have been handballed. Liverpool loanee Divock Origi clinically dispatched. It is worth noting that Nicklas Bendtner missed a one-on-one just seconds previously. Les Dogues were ahead in a game during which they had been thoroughly dominated but they should have made it 2! Nolan Roux had a golden opportunity to finish unmarked at the heart of the penalty area but his effort was timid. 

Sure enough, Kevin de Bruyne equalised with what can only be described as a stunning effort on 82 minutes after Kjaer’s initial clearance was met by the Belgian who smashed it on the full, into Enyeama’s top left corner. There was no stopping that for the wall-like goalkeeper. Lille leave with a point that they hardly deserved over 90 minutes, and, with Everton next, Rene Girard will surely be pessimistic of their chances of progressing.

St Étienne 0-0 Dnipro

Another St Étienne Europa League game, another yawn-fest. Frustrating for Christophe Galtier, as his men largely dominated the encounter with early chances falling to Max Gradel and then, just after the half hour mark, Francois Clerc, but both efforts were saved by the untroubled Boyko.

Down the other end, ASSE’s goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier fantastically saved a low penalty, extending to his left superbly on 27 minutes. Later on in the encounter, ASSE carved out several opportunities, with Ivorian Gradel continuing in his fine vain of offensive inventiveness, but not finding a player to finish his good work off. Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel managed to get off the mark for Les Verts on Thursday last week, but it hasn’t seemed to have done anything to his overall motivation, cutting a forlorn figure throughout. Fabien Lemoine had another impressive game, but Dnipro offered very little in the way of quality attacking buildup and it goes down as two points lost for Sainté in their first home game of the group stage.

C.S./C.N.

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