Out of Europe, PSG focuses on beating Lyon to French title
PARIS (AP) — With its European aspirations in tatters after two losses to Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals, Paris Saint-Germain will now focus on finishing ahead of Lyon in the close-fought French title race.
The teams are level on points, with Lyon ahead on goal difference — although the difference is steadily dwindling — and Paris Saint-Germain having played a game less.
PSG will again be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Saturday’s home match against Lille as he serves the second of his three-game ban for an expletive-laced rant aimed at officials after a league game against Bordeaux last month.
Lyon needs to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing 2-2 home draw with rival Saint-Etienne, in which Lyon squandered several chances. The team will face struggling Reims knowing it needs to boost its goal difference.
Here are some things to know about this weekend’s games:
PRESSURE ON CAVANI
After two disappointing performances against Barcelona in the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani needs to make amends in the French league.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic suspended for Saturday’s home game against Lille, the pressure will be on Cavani to score after he missed good chances in the first leg against Barcelona, and looked completely out of sorts in the second.
Cavani, PSG’s record signing, has scored nine league goals in 29 games — five of those as a substitute — this season, but has rarely shown the scintillating form that saw him torment defenses when playing for Napoli, where he netted 78 times in 104 league games.
A few weeks ago, Marseille fans were still dreaming of the French title. Now, finishing third is the main priority after three straight losses.
A 3-2 loss to Paris Saint-Germain three weeks ago, where Marseille twice squandered the lead, was a massive blow. Since then, the team has lost at Bordeaux and at Nantes to drop down to fourth place, two points behind Monaco and with Saint-Etienne just behind.
Now that Monaco is out of the Champions League, having lost to Juventus 1-0 on aggregate, it has only the league to focus on, increasing the pressure on Marseille.
Much will be at stake when Marseille hosts Monaco on May 9.
Before then, Marseille hosts Lorient on Friday and then plays at Metz the following weekend, while Monaco is at last-place Lens on Sunday and then hosts Toulouse.
Both sides will expect to take maximum points before their crucial showdown.
TALK TO ME
Paris Saint-Germain players will start talking to broadcaster Canal Plus again after Saturday’s televised home game against Lille.
PSG had barred its players from answering any questions posed by Canal Plus journalists after matches or in news conferences in retaliation for the broadcaster having filmed Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s expletive-laced rant at match officials after a game against Bordeaux last month.
The footage, captured as an irate Ibrahimovic was walking back to the dressing room moments after a loss, led to him being banned for four games by the French league. That ban was reduced to three on appeal to the French Olympic Committee, but PSG felt strongly that the images had influenced the outcome of the initial hearing.
The French league has since mediated in the matter, pledging to reduce broadcasters’ access to intimate, post-match moments such as Ibrahimovic’s rant.
Canal Plus was a long-time sponsor of PSG before ending its association in 2006.
Fifth-place Saint-Etienne is unbeaten in eight league games and pushing hard for a top-four finish, with Marseille firmly in coach Christophe Galtier’s sights.
Marseille holds fourth place but it is only ahead of Saint-Etienne on goal difference, and the momentum is clearly with Saint-Etienne.
The upsurge in Saint-Etienne’s form is linked to a key tactical switch from Galtier, who dropped goal-shy Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel and converted Ivory Coast winger Max-Alain Gradel to center forward.
While Van Wolfswinkel has managed only five goals in 25 league games this season, Gradel has scored seven in his past seven league games, including an equalizing goal in a 2-2 draw at rival Lyon last weekend.
Gradel’s pace and skill gives Saint-Etienne more variety in attack than the less mobile Van Wolfswinkel, who has a good touch but gets too easily knocked off the ball.
Monaco midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia is emerging as one of the best talents in French football after a string of excellent performances in recent months.
The dynamic midfielder was named in UEFA’s Champions League team of the week after the second legs of the quarterfinals thanks to his performance against Juventus, which boasts one of the strongest midfields in European football.
Allied to his stamina and ball-winning skills, Kondogbia is an astute passer and is able to dictate play. He ran the midfield when Monaco won at Arsenal in the first leg of the last 16, and largely kept Juventus playmaker Andrea Pirlo quiet in Wednesday’s 0-0 draw.
The 22-year-old Kondogbia was inconsistent last season after joining from Sevilla, but he has been arguably Monaco’s best player in the second half of this season as it chases a Champions League spot.
Kondogbia has also broken back into the France team and the thought of him teaming up in midfield with the outstanding Paul Pogba is a mouth-watering prospect for France coach Didier Deschamps ahead of next year’s European Championship.