Sunday sees Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier do battle at the Parc des Princes to see who can put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack as the title race hots up. Both sides are in good form but la Paillade’s performances have been more convincing of late as they come into the game on the back of a 12 match unbeaten run. Carlo Ancelotti’s men on the other hand have struggled lately being held to a goalless draw at Nice last weekend and disposing of Dijon in the Coupe de France on Wednesday night by the slenderest of margins.
The match pits two of the league’s highest scorers against each other so on paper at least, that should promise us some goals. However, Montpellier who have outscored Sunday’s opponents by seven goals so far can boast multi-talented, superstar international Olivier Giroud up front as he looks to add to his impressive tally of 16 goals and six assists. He in particular will have been aching for this game since PSG’s heavy victory at the Stade de la Mosson earlier this season in what has been the only game so far this campaign where MHSC have been out-played.
In the other corner, Nenê has been instrumental yet again for the capital club this season and looks, at times, like he is capable of carrying the side on his own. His 11 goals and four assists although not as impressive as Giroud’s tally have seen PSG keep their position at the top of the table since the winter break and he will see this game as a chance to not only lead the team to victory but also put some daylight between the two sides at the summit.
As I mentioned in this week’s podcast, I see this battle as something of a Terminator v Kyle Reese matchup. Les Rouges-et-Bleu have been piling up points and winning games without ever really impressing in their performances, looking somewhat robotic at times. La Paillade however have been more entertaining whilst racking up a similar record, yet their greatest strength is arguably the most humane of all footballing factors and something that no amount of money can buy (no, not John Utaka) – team chemistry.
There is a real understanding between the Montpellier players and they function extremely well as a unit without being able to boast the ‘star’ names that Ancelotti’s men can send onto the pitch. Their underdog mentality and faultless work rate on the pitch has paid dividends and has transformed them from relegation candidates last season to title challengers this with very few changes made to the starting lineup.
René Girard’s side have enjoyed great success this term with a team that can pull together and play well consistently and focus all of their attacking play through their talisman Olivier Giroud. The 25-year old has been crucial to MHSC’s success so far this year but he contributes so much more than just goals. Feeding off the great service he receives from the likes of Younès Belhanda, Geoffrey Dernis, John Utaka, Marco Estrada and lately Rémy Cabella, Giroud has not only been able to profit by plundering himself a mammoth haul of goals so far, he has also been able to learn how to turn himself into a provider.
Looking at the spread of his goals this season, it is evident that the striker is not just a flat-track bully, match-winning goals against Lille and Lyon and assists against Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne have seen the team grow in stature over a remarkably short space of time. Although Giroud is by far their key player and biggest threat to PSG this Sunday, the team has now learnt to function strongly as a unit and as a result, the players surrounding him have become more dangerous.
PSG on the other hand are still a work in progress. They have impressed many by being able to reach the summit of Ligue 1 so soon after the investment had been made by QSI last summer but their road to the top so far has hardly been littered with impressive performances and collective endeavour. Instead, the capital club have resembled a circus of extremely talented and exciting players who prefer to showcase their individual talents rather than sacrificing aspects of their personal play for the greater good of the team.
Take Nenê and Jérémy Ménez for example, they are both fantastic players who have the ability to be amongst the best wide men in Europe however, more often than not they are to be found trying to be too individualistic on the pitch and the team suffers as a result. If Ancelotti’s men are to win this game they will need to take a leaf out of Montpellier’s book and replicate their performances from their earlier victories over MHSC and Lyon which were arguably their two most complete performances of the season.
Nouveau-riche PSG are certainly favourites for this game but in the form Montpellier are in only a fool would write them off. I predicted that Nene and co would win this game 3-2, more out of hope that the match lives up to its tremendous billing than anything else but I will stick to it as I cannot see la Paillade failing to score. Whatever happens, this match will not decide the title outright but it will go a long way towards predicting its outcome. If PSG win then they will put daylight between themselves and the chasing pack at a crucial period on the season however, if Montpellier win then the title race has been blown wide open once again.