Follow the Ball – Game 11: Paris Saint-Germain vs Stade de Reims

When I first decided that I wanted to take on this Follow the Ball “challenge” it was because I wanted to watch football I wouldn’t normally enjoy. I watch a fair amount of football as it is; but the majority is either English domestic competitions, a sprinkling of the Champions League and Europa League, and a few games featuring players from the In Bed With Maradona 100 (with a focus on watching the specific players from The 100 rather than necessarily the overall match).

That’s a decent haul all told and yet I want to push myself just a little further, for shits and giggles more than anything. And so – here we are with Paris Saint-Germain hosting Stade de Reims in Ligue 1, a game I certainly wouldn’t have bothered with if it wasn’t for this project.

Game 7: Watford 0-0 Chelsea (c)
Barclays Premier League, Wednesday 3rd February 2016, Vicarage Road

Game 8: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United
Barclays Premier League, Sunday 7th February 2016, Stamford Bridge

Game 9: Chelsea (c) 5-1 Newcastle United
Barclays Premier League, Saturday 13th February 2016, Stamford Bridge

Game 10: Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Chelsea (c)
UEFA Champions League, Tuesday 16th February 2016, Parc des Princes

Having deservedly taken the crown from Chelsea on Tuesday night with victory in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash, I’ve attached myself to the PSG bandwagon and looked forward to a few weeks (possibly months) with the runaway Ligue 1 leaders.

Game 11: Paris Saint-Germain vs Stade de Reims
Ligue 1, Saturday 20th February 2016, Parc des Princes

The Skinny: After weeks of getting by with minimal knowledge, plenty of ironic footballing clichés and just enough stolen opinions to make it appear like I know what I’m talking about, I need to actually put a little research ahead of this game.

Watching PSG on Tuesday night; I had no idea they played with such general freedom in the front line. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Angel Di Maria and Lucas Moura (“the most YouTube footballer in the history of YouTube” – David Hartrick, 2016) popped up in all areas of the pitch with a general understanding that the other two would assume their roles elsewhere. It’s not at all what I expected – although in truth, I was expecting Edinson Cavani to be on from the start.

PSG have basically got the Ligue 1 title all wrapped up for a fourth consecutive year. The last time they lost in the league was March 2015 and with all of their rivals failing to muster anything close to a title challenge in 2015/16, the reigning Champions are currently in the midst of romping to the title.

As an aside – 2nd place Monaco’s haul of 46 points from 26 games would only be good enough for 5th in the Premier League, 6th in Serie A, 5th in La Liga (with two extra games played) and admittedly 3rd in the Bundesliga. As good as PSG have been – P26 W22 D4 L0 – no-one has gone with them.

That said – Paris still deserve an enormous amount of credit. Though their humongous budget demands success, they are achieving it in spades. They are still competing on four fronts, with a place in April’s Coupe de la Ligue final already sorted and the league title all but sewn up.

As for their opponents; a quick glance at the bottom end of the Ligue 1 table tells that Stade de Reims are slap bang in the middle of the relegation fight. They are currently doing just fine, two points above the bottom three with two wins from their last three league matches. Stretching that run of form a little further doesn’t make happy reading as those wins are their only victories in their last 11 Ligue 1 matches (D4 L5).

Former Premier League “stars” David N’Gog and Thievy Bifouma are the only names that immediately jump out from the team sheet. I suspect I won’t need to learn many others as the league leaders will win this. *famous last words*

The Match: No N’Gog which is a shame; but the rest of this game was quite good fun. PSG started well and dominated the game throughout, with sharp passing, fluid movement and enough swagger to force Stade de Reims to be constantly retreating. I know that they get plenty of practice at it but they play the role of big fish in a small pond extremely well.

The opening goal was thoroughly deserved and was taken very well by Gregory van der Wiel (who did a decent job of filling in for Serge Aurier). Van der Wiel was a constant outlet through the game and his runs forward played a role in what was PSG’s third goal of the game.

Before they got there though, they seemed to ease off just a little after taking a 1-0 lead. The urgency filtered out of their passing and they wasted a couple of good positions. Two lacklustre passes meant two good chances went begging without testing the visiting goalkeeper and the away side seemed to take a little bit of confidence from that.

Their equalising goal will be one that Kevin Trapp will want to forget; though he did redeem himself with a couple of solid saves elsewhere in the match. Thankfully for the German his over eagerness to get to a cross didn’t cost the league leaders.

PSG had enough time to re-group after conceding and re-establish their lead before half-time; which they did with many thanks to Zlatan. The 34 year-old played a direct role in all four of the goals – scoring two and assisting two – and won his side the match. The fourth goal – which was the best strike of the game – should have been ruled out for offside; though Chuck Norris doesn’t get ruled offisde, right?

As a Manchester United fan it is not easy to see Angel Di Maria actually having fun on the football pitch. I’ve only seen two games but there seems to be a confidence within the Paris team that they trust each other to drift into other areas, and that was on show against Reims. It suits Di Maria; although it was a shame to see him depart the pitch five minutes before half-time.

The Result: Paris Saint-Germain 4-1 Stade de Reims

All told I quite enjoyed that. Paris Saint-Germain were overwhelming favourites and met those expectations at a canter; fair play.

What’s next? Lyon vs Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1

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