Paris Saint-Germain returned to their winning ways Wednesday night at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard as they defeated AS Saint-Etienne by a score of 3-1 to reach the semifinals of the Coupe de France.
It was always going to be difficult for the hosts. Paris were on a run of 36 league matches (over two seasons) without a loss before last Sunday’s debacle against Olympique Lyonnais and it was unlikely Les Parisians would lose two games in four days. That being said, both teams entered the match with clear objectives. Les Verts needed to win the Coupe de France in order to qualify for Europe next season due to their seventh place standing in Ligue 1. For Paris, everything right now is about next week’s clash with Chelsea F.C. in the UEFA Champions League. While defeating Saint-Etienne is important for the psyche of the team, getting key players in form and finding their fitness is even more so.
Laurent Blanc made five changes to the starting lineup after the loss to Lyon. Benjamin Stambouli, Maxwell, Kevin Trapp, and Lucas Moura were all relegated to the bench while Gregory van der Wiel was left out of the squad completely in favor of seventeen-year-old Alec Georgen. The changes were necessary as the midfield trio of Thiago Motta, Adrien Rabiot, and Stambouli was absolutely abhorrent at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais. The defense wasn’t much better either and van der Wiel being left out for Marquinhos, who isn’t even a natural right back, was a welcomed change. Perhaps the most exciting addition to the lineup was Javier Pastore, whose injury battles this year have been frustrating to say the least, and to see him go the full 90 minutes was uplifting.
— PSG Officiel (@PSG_inside) March 2, 2016
It didn’t take long for the visitors to get on the scoresheet. In the 12th minute, David Luiz played a long pass to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who then turned and played a world class through ball to Edinson Cavani who was sprinting behind two Saint-Etienne defenders. It was a calm finish by Cavani and you have to give him credit for burying the easy chance. Say what you will about the Uruguayan but he consistently finds himself in the right place at the right time.
Ibrahimovic wasn’t done dishing out assists quite yet and in the 34th minute, his cross slipped through to Marquinhos who only needed to tap the ball into Stéphane Ruffier’s net. Lost in the pass and the goal was Cavani, whose flick-on header made it possible for Ibrahimovic to put the cross into the box. I mentioned earlier about his movement, watch the clip below and notice how quickly the Uruguayan sprints to the front of the goal after the header and appears to direct it towards Marquinhos. The former Napoli man appears to have shaken off his winter funk and I love the passion he shows in his goal celebrations lately.
Now, it wouldn’t be a Paris Saint-Germain match without some kind of defensive blunder. Trapp has typically been the culprit in allowing soft goals but this time it was Layvin Kurzawa. His lazy challenge just inside the box led to a penalty just before halftime. Valentin Eysseric buried the chance to make it 2-1 and with the home crowd behind them, I started to wonder if Christophe Galtier’s men might pull this one out—or at least send it into extra time.
The second half remained competitive but Paris Saint-Germain were rarely threatened. The addition of Blaise Matuidi to the midfield was a welcomed change over Stambouli, who struggled mightily against Lyon. The France international suffocated the Saint-Etienne attack and his work rate on both ends of the pitch was vital to the team. However, in the 67th minute, Matuidi pulled up with what appeared to be a hamstring injury. Tests will be conducted today to check on the severity of the injury and Blanc is downplaying the injury saying that he took the player off as a precaution. I think it’s fair to say Blaise will not be in the squad against Montpellier on Saturday and his status for the Chelsea match is in doubt, which is a huge blow.
While one crucial PSG player heads to the training table, another returned to the pitch in a starting role. Pastore, who made an appearance in the loss to Lyon in a substitute role, played the entire game and treated supporters to flashes of brilliance throughout. His powerful shot from distance hit the goal post and some of his dribbles past defenders brought me out of my seat. The Argentine still has a way to go to regain his form pre-injury but it shouldn’t be long until El Flaco is back in the starting XI consistently.
The match reached its climax in stoppage time as Saint-Etienne pressed on and nearly scored off a Nolan Roux header that went just over the crossbar. Lucas Moura, who came on for Cavani in the 87th minute, scored perhaps the goal of the game and squashed any hope the hosts had of taking this into extra time. The Brazilian dribbled past three helpless defenders and placed his shot perfectly to beat Ruffier. No one questions Lucas’ speed but the technical ability he displayed was superb. I don’t know who Blanc will choose to pair with Ibrahimovic and Di Maria at Chelsea but having Cavani and Lucas in form is a good problem to have.
With one cup final already to look forward to (Coupe de la Ligue) and now a semifinal match against FC Lorient, who will host the defending champions in April, Paris have a real opportunity to win four domestic trophies once again and given the recent performance of key players, you have to say they are one of three or four teams who have a realistic chance at winning the Champions League. Life is good at the moment.