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Varying fortunes for Henry & Vieira as they prepare to meet

December 3, 2018

PARIS (AP) — As teammates for club and country, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira experienced some of the greatest highs sport can bring.

They were young and played for France when it won the World Cup in 1998, with Vieira setting up the third goal in a 3-0 win against Brazil in the final. Two years later they had more success, when France won the European Championship. In 2004, they led a rampant Arsenal side to the league title without losing a game.

Vieira was hard but fair with an eye for a pass, and was the best midfielder of his era in the Premier League along with Manchester United’s Roy Keane. The lightning-fast and silky-smooth Henry was arguably the finest forward to grace the Premier League and scored a club record 228 goals for Arsenal.

On Friday, they face each other as managers when Monaco hosts Nice. Their first seasons coaching at the top European level could not be more contrasting.

While the 42-year-old Vieira has turned Nice around, a short distance away along the French Riviera the 41-year-old Henry is struggling in the relegation zone.

Nice has picked up 13 points in the past five games without conceding a goal, a strong turnaround after one point from the first three games.

Remarkably, Vieira has done this with star striker Mario Balotelli out of form. The Italy international has not scored in nine league games, having finished as the club’s top scorer the past two seasons.

Monaco’s leading scorer of the past two seasons, Radamel Falcao, has also been down on form. But in contrast to Nice with Balotelli, Falcao’s performance has echoed the fortunes of his club, now a pale imitation of the side which won the French league and reached the Champions League semifinals in 2017.

Henry took over with Monaco short of form and hit by injuries to key players. Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Montpellier means Henry has only won one of his nine matches in charge.

It has affected Falcao, too. Although the Colombia forward has scored five times in 13 games he is not as sharp as be used to be. Monaco has netted only 14 in 15 games, an alarming slump for a side which scored more than 150 in all competitions in 2016-17.

It is unfair to blame Falcao for Monaco’s scoring slump, considering that the other six forwards have managed only two goals between them. Also, attacking midfielder Rony Lopes — who scored 15 league goals last term — has been sidelined with injury since early September.

Monaco, at least, has only the league to focus on now since it’s been eliminated from the Champions League and cannot even qualify for the Europa League.

EXCESSIVE CELEBRATIONS

Runaway leader Paris Saint-Germain’s domestic dominance would have counted for little had it lost to Liverpool in the Champions League this week.

PSG won 2-1 with a dynamic performance which showed the players are embracing coach Thomas Tuchel’s desire for greater intensity and better teamwork.

But the scenes at the end of Wednesday’s game appeared unnecessary.

Led by Neymar, PSG’s players celebrated by dancing wildly in front of their jubilant fans.

Such scenes of joy are usually befitting of a team winning a trophy or avoiding relegation on the last day. Yet PSG has not even qualified for the knockout round of the Champions League, let alone reached the final for the first time in its history.

During the game itself, captain Thiago Silva let out a cry of “Allez!” (Come on!) and bumped chests with teammate Marquinhos, after they helped shut down Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah.

They were simply doing what they are supposed to do and there was nothing eye-catching or remarkable about it. But Marquinhos still Tweeted a short video of the moment itself as if it were concrete proof of something other than defensive players doing their jobs.

PSG’s propensity to self-promote every achievement seems to reveal a lack of confidence in a side which has failed to live up to the club’s European expectations. Despite spending hundreds of millions on big names since Qatari owners QSI took over June, 2011, PSG has never been beyond the Champions League quarterfinals.

Given this, the post-game euphoria and gusto shown from Silva and Marquinhos seemed more prompted by relief than belief.

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