PSG’s rocky road to 1st league title since 1994
PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain clinched its first French league title since 1994 by defeating Lyon 1-0 on Sunday.
PSG has now an unassailable seven-point lead at the top of the standings. With just two rounds left, second-place Marseille can no longer catch its fierce rival.
This is PSG’s first title under Qatar Sports Investments, which took control of the club in the summer of 2011 and spent over 250 million euros on transfers to strengthen the squad.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was instrumental in leading PSG to success. The Sweden striker has scored 27 league goals so far.
Ibrahimovic also won domestic league titles with Ajax Amsterdam (2002, 2004), Inter Milan (2007, 2008, 2009), Barcelona (2010) and AC Milan (2011).
The tactical expertise of Carlo Ancelotti showed in the matches against the top teams. PSG edged Lyon 1-0 in December, beat Lille twice and earned a victory and a draw against Marseille.
Ancelotti has now clinched the league title in three different countries. He guided AC Milan to Serie A success in 2004 and became champion with Chelsea in the Premier League in 2010. He also won the Champions League with AC Milan in 2003 and 2007.
The Italian coach has significantly improved PSG’s defensive culture. When PSG finished second behind Montpellier last season, it had the most potent offense but just the fifth tightest defense. By contrast, PSG claims the most prolific attack and the tightest defense this season.
Brazil centerback Thiago Silva clearly provided the leadership at the back that was lacking in the previous season, while Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti worked hard in midfield to protect the defense.
Ancelotti also displayed his man-management skills by keeping the dressing room under control despite players with either a strong character or poor discipline.
Among the recent champions, PSG does not have the fluidity of Lille’s passing game in 2011 nor the team spirit of Montpellier in 2012.
The Parisian club could show flashes of brilliance like in the 4-0 win at Bastia in September, the 4-0 demolition of Valenciennes in December and the 3-0 rout of Nice in April.
But PSG could also look pedestrian with mediocre performances against weak teams. It lost 3-2 at Sochaux in February and 1-0 at Reims in March.
In the end, the quality of its players and the results against potential contenders helped PSG win its third league title overall.
PSG swapped the lead with Lyon and Marseille in the first half of the season. Ibrahimovic carried the team on his shoulders by netting 18 goals in 19 matches. PSG relied so much on the Sweden striker that the local news media created the term ‘Ibra-dependence’ to describe that pattern.
Lyon, Marseille and PSG were tied at the halfway stage with 38 points each.
But in the second half of the season, neither Marseille nor Lyon could keep pace with PSG, whose deeper bench made the difference.
Ancelotti was smart enough to release during the winter such unhappy players as Nene, Guillaume Hoarau and Peguy Luyindula while loaning out Adrien Rabiot, Mohamed Sissoko, Mathieu Bodmer and Diego Lugano. The move contributed to making the squad more united.
Marseille went through a poor run of form in January and February, letting Lyon and PSG fight for the title.
Lyon was still level on points with PSG after 22 rounds but its title bid faded in April after a five-game winless streak.