Details can make the difference, as managers always say.
That’s never been more true than at the top of the league in France this season.
After Sunday’s 1-0 win against Olympique Lyonnais, Paris Saint-Germain are back level on points with their two big rivals. They lead Lyon and Marseille on goal difference. After a bad start and a poor run of games in November PSG are back where they are meant to be.
Carlo’s Ancelotti’s men ended up comfortable winners against a depleted Lyon side despite the narrow scoreline. Lyon had one great chance to go ahead when Lisandro Lopez hit the post. Then came the sucker punch, right on half time. Left-back Michel Bastos, so often a scorer of vital goals, lost the ball as he was shaping to shoot. In an instant Zlatan Ibrahimovic was running into the empty space to deliver the cross for Blaise Matuidi to head home.
Six seconds from one end to the other. The detail made the difference. But the detail that’s truly made the difference is €226m.
Other clubs around Europe have spent fortunes on players, but in the context of France PSG’s financial power dwarfs anything else. Lyon and Marseille together have paid out €27m on transfers during the past two summers: PSG have spent €253m.
With Leonardo in charge of the budget and Ancelotti as coach their teamsheet reads like a Serie A reunion: eight of Sunday’s side were bought from Italian clubs. Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva most notably, but also the two South Americans, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore, who cost €68m between them.
Still to arrive in January is another €40m worth in the shape of the young Brazilian attacker Lucas Moura, who chose the Parc des Princes rather than Old Trafford, not for the money, he says, but because of the strong Brazilian influence at the club. Money talks, but as at Milan with Kaka and Pato, Leonardo is the man with the gift of the gab, as well as the contacts to pull off big deals. All the same, the new regime has still to deliver.
Pipped at the post last May by Montpellier, an 80/1 shot in the pre-season betting, PSG looked as though they were suffering from that well-known disease of sheikhs and oligarchs — a surfeit of players. Ancelotti is all too familiar with wealthy bosses who expect immediate results and sounds a little world-weary when challenged about why the huge Qatari investment has yet to bear fruit.
“You don’t achieve beautiful things between today and tomorrow,” he said. “We have 15 new players here at PSG, do you want to give them a bit of time to get to know each other or not?”
He’s been questioned particularly about the form of Pastore, so brilliant when he was in a small pond at Palermo and so disappointing since his move to a fancy goldfish bowl in Paris. Talk of another move in January was widespread just a few weeks ago, particularly with Moura’s imminent arrival but also because Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez have similar qualities.
The manager’s position has also been questioned, with Jose Mourinho predictably canvassing himself as a possible replacement. Ancelotti shrugs it off as ever: “Mou is tremendous, I know him well. I know how he is and it doesn’t anger me when he talks.”
What gives him more confidence is the way the team is starting to come together and the comfortable Champions League qualification.
“Only Real Madrid and Bayern managed to score one more goal than us and we have the best defensive record with just three conceded.”
Their defence had Ancelotti enthusing on Sunday night but equally impressive was the way they passed and kept the ball in the second half, forcing the Lyon players to run themselves into the ground, much as Barcelona do. There are also signs Ibrahimovic and Pastore are developing a good understanding. Few managers have completely motivated the Ibra Enigma: it frustrated Fabio Capello and Roberto Mancini as well as Pep Guardiola. If Ancelotti achieves it PSG may well be real contenders in Europe as well as at home.
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