Pitchside Europe

PSG sashay into Ligue 1 spotlight

Pitchside Europe

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If Paris Saint-Germain's 2-0 win over Lyon on Sunday felt like the dawn of a new era
in Ligue 1, the supporting cast was certainly up to scratch.

Actors, models and
politicians mingled in the tribunes at a boisterous Parc des Princes, while
French football royalty was on hand in the shape of Zinedine Zidane and his
former France team-mates Lilian Thuram, Christian Karembeu and Robert Pirès.
Samir Nasri also made an appearance, along with world champion judoka Teddy
Riner and Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë, with Nicolas Sarkozy's sons, Pierre and
Jean, on hand to make sure France's first family were represented as well.

When Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) president Nasser
al-Khelaifi swept through the mixed zone, flanked by minders and accompanied by
sporting director Leonardo, he did his best not to intrude into the spotlight
by steering clear of the reporters' microphones thrust in his direction. It is
impossible, however, to look at PSG and not think of the millions of euros that
have turned them into the biggest draw in French sport.

QSI's
€86 million summer outlay
may have transformed PSG's squad but it also
created a level of expectation that threatened to crush the club before the
season had even begun. No sooner had Leonardo's long-delayed appointment been
confirmed than rumours arose of conflict between him and first-team coach
Antoine Kombouaré, stoked by Leonardo's decision to sign Italy international
goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu from Palermo despite the fact Kombouaré had already
made it clear he saw Nicolas Douchez, his own signing from Rennes, as the
first-choice number one.

A 1-0 defeat at home to Lorient in their opening league
game was as predictable as it was damaging, and Kombouaré's future was the
source of open speculation in the media until a 3-1 victory at Toulouse on
August 28 finally gave him some breathing space. Javier Pastore, the
French-record €42 million acquisition from Palermo, was the match-winner in
that game, setting up Kévin Gameiro's equaliser and a last-minute winner by
Mevlüt Erding, and his influence has only increased since.

Having scored the game's only goal against Brest last month, he sparked his
side's fightback in a 2-2 draw at Evian with a delicate individual effort and
netted twice in the 3-0 win at Montpellier. It was he who broke the deadlock
against Lyon in the second half, gliding past Bakary Koné and surprising Hugo
Lloris with a low strike that flashed inside the near post.

Like other sides hastily constructed with huge financial
backing in recent years, PSG are managing to overwhelm their opponents despite
a lack of cohesion in their play. Lyon looked notably more comfortable in
possession in Sunday's game, but they had no answer to the counter-attacking
raids of Pastore and his team-mates. The Argentine's decision-making let him
down in the first half, but his class is such that he can tip the balance of a
match with one moment of brilliance.

Sirigu, his former Palermo team-mate, tacitly
acknowledged PSG's Pastore dependence after the game. "PSG isn't just
about Pastore, that would be unfair," he said. "When everybody's at
100 percent then things will become easier."

Three points clear at the Ligue 1 summit, there is
nonetheless an approximative feel to PSG's nascent title challenge. They are
unquestionably the most impressive team this season to date, but they remain
dependent on key individuals and have also benefited from their rivals'
problems. Lyon, in transition under Rémi Garde, have been hampered by injuries,
defending champions Lille are learning how to juggle domestic commitments with
the Champions League, and Marseille were left behind at the start line.

As Kombouaré admitted in his post-match press conference,
there is still a long way to go before PSG can be considered genuine
front-runners, but with the Parc des Princes rocking again and the eyes of the
nation upon them, the stage is certainly set.

European Team of the Week, as selected by Opta

Goalkeeper: Oliver Baumann (Freiburg v Borussia
Moenchengladbach)

Clean sheet - six saves made - 77% distribution accuracy

 

Right-back: Dani Alves (Barcelona v Sporting Gijon)

Clean sheet - 93% passing accuracy - 83% tackle success

 

Centre-back: Felipe Santana (Borussia Dortmund v Augsburg)

Clean sheet - 94% passing accuracy - six recoveries

 

Centre-back: Hugo Campagnaro (Napoli v Internazionale)

Clean sheet - one goal scored - two key passes

 

Left-back: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City v Blackburn)

Clean sheet - nine recoveries - 88% passing accuracy

 

Right midfield: Robert Mak (Nuernberg v Mainz)

One goal scored - one assist - 93% passing accuracy

 

Central midfielder: Mario Goetze (Borussia Dortmund v
Augsburg)

One goal scored - one assist - 100% shooting accuracy

 

Central midfielder: Frank Lampard (Chelsea v Bolton)

Three goals scored - 95% passing accuracy - 60% shot
conversion rate

 

Left midfield: Clint Dempsey (Fulham v QPR)

One goal scored - one assist - three key passes

 

Striker: Robert Lewandowski (Borussia Dortmund v Augsburg)

Three goals scored - one assist - 50% shot conversion rate

 

Striker: Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid v Espanyol)

Three goals scored - 75% shot conversion rate - 97% passing
accuracy rate

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