PSG: Le Classique, and the Perils of Being a False JuggernautBy: Brian | November 10th, 2009
(ed. note: Is anyone else experiencing a great deal of automatic quitting as the game tries to load a match or the inbox immediately after a match? I’ve had that happen a bunch now, and it’s extraordinarily frustrating. I’m running this on an older MacBook Pro with OS 10.5.8. I’ve eliminated the crowds and sky from the match engine, and turned the graphics quality down to medium. We’ll see if that helps. Anyway, on with the show.)
I have the best board ever. When I asked for a larger wage budget, they gave it to me. When I asked for more transfer funds, they gave me those, too. And then on the 1st of October, they just handed me another €9m, because the club’s finances had improved. I decided to take advantage of the joker transfer window and for €4.5m grab Cheik M’Bengue as my longer-term solution (maybe? finally? hopefully?) at left back. Toulouse’s finances are allegedly secure, but they’ve now knocked down the prices on two of their promising youngsters by almost €10m. Gabriel Milito joined on a season-long loan at the end of the full transfer window, and so with the rest of the funds I wanted to make his loan and vdV’s loan permanent. Neither was willing to discuss a contract. I’ll be holding onto the remaining funds to try again later in the season, unless I’m offered someone irresistible.
How are we doing?
I’m tired. This entire season has felt like a gambling streak that I’m not allowed to end. We’ve been tempting fate for far too long. Heading towards Marseille, we hadn’t tasted defeat once in a game since our friendlies, and only two matches had ended in draws. We’d scored the most goals in Ligue 1 (22), while conceding 9 in our nine league matches. Our goal difference was +13, tops in the league. But after demolishing Montpellier in the opener, there hasn’t been a single match where it seemed like we were in control for 90 minutes. We won four matches in a row 2-1. No opponent’s lead has seemed surmountable, and no lead of ours has seemed safe. In our last match before Marseille, away at Toulouse, we conceded a late goal and settled for a 1-1 draw. Now, in that match I kept Sakho and Milito on the bench, to keep them from getting a yellow and thus a suspension for Le Classique. So that goal is probably on me. I’m hopeful that these are just the growing pains of what could be a really, really good team (and considering what I’ve spent it had better be), but it always feels like a dip in form is just around the corner.
Larger problems are lurking below the surface. Milevskyi? 7 goals in 8 matches. However, Erdinç and Koné are both goalless thus far. Hoarau, who scored our only goal against Toulouse, hadn’t scored since he picked up a brace in his full debut against Lille on August 30th. (ed.: one of those unexpected quits? Immediately after the Toulouse match, which we had won 3-1, on a Hoarau hat trick. But he was playing in Milevskyi’s position). I want to attribute this to poor finishing because I’ve watched the matches, and I have never seen strikers so seemingly inept when it counts. From point-blank range, by head or by foot, they shoot directly at the keeper. Firing wide or high when one on one brings a little variety to the comedy of errors. It’s painful to watch. But I’m forced to admit that maybe it’s my tactics. Before Toulouse, I changed the two wing-forwards to “Advanced Forwards” in the hopes that they’ll more actively seek out scoring opportunities rather than playing others on. They’d developed a nasty habit of dribbling into the corner and then passing back to the advancing fullback. Their “wide play” instructions are now to move into channels rather than cut inside. Koné managed a MoM award against Toulouse, but didn’t score. So there’s hope, but I don’t know if I’ve hit on the right instructions yet. They’ve refused all my suggestions to focus on rounding the keeper or placing their shots, and they’re upset enough as it is. Fragile little bunch, my forwards.
Physically fragile, too. During the October international break, Erdinç broke his nose, and Milevskyi strained his groin. Both missed the match at Toulouse (hence Hoarau taking over for Milevskyi), and Erdinç wasn’t fully fit for Marseille. Artem missed it. In addition to the strikers, Armand is still recovering from broken ribs and tires quickly, Chantome strained his wrist in training and was unavailable, and Mateus was out with a sprained ankle.
I kept all of my concerns to myself as we traveled to Marseille. The huge press conference was an excellent time to make extended use of my new French skills (Peon’s been fired. I think he’s in Delaware now), and I tried to be a picture of confidence. I said I wasn’t nervous. I said that any pressure would be used as motivation, and I hoped the players would do the same. I even engaged in a little war of words with Didier Deschamps.
They would be without Kaladze (on loan from Milan), Cheyrou, and Koné, but that information wouldn’t change my preparations. Without many real options for my lineup I picked a bench of Edel, Jallet, M’Bengué, Otamendi, Clément, Capoue, and Erdinç, we started out like this:
We hit the woodwork twice in the first twenty-five minutes of the match. No one seemed nervous. Maybe I’ve been overreacting? We had a few corners, but nothing came of them. And then with the half almost at an end, Ben Arfa sprinted down the left side and sent in a cross. Armand completely misjudged the flight of the ball and let it reach Niang. Niang headed it directly into Brandão and the ball ricocheted back to Lucho Gonzalez at the top of the box. He fired in a low shot across Coupet and Marseille had a 1-0 lead. In the dressing room I told my players I wanted to see more from them. I pulled Armand for M’Bengué to see how he would do in such a pressure-filled situation, and I brought Erdinç in for Koné, as Arouna had picked up an injury.
My players charged out of the tunnel like they thought we could win. I was glad someone felt that way. I spent my time trying to figure out what I would tell them after the match, maybe something about how we couldn’t possibly have expected to keep that run going, but that we had 28 games left and it certainly wasn’t the end of the world. And then, while I was thinking that, Ceará crossed a ball to Hoarau, who headed it so hard that Mandanda could only deflect it as it went past him. We’d equalized! And… well, that was that, really. No one ever threatened again. Marseille had conceded 5 goals all season before the match, and they were content to sit back and defend the fort. I finally pulled Sessegnon, who’d picked up a yellow in the first 10 minutes, and replaced him with Clément. I thought about pushing them as the game drew to a close, to try to steal the full 3 points, but in the end decided against it. Maybe I’ve gotten gun-shy, but with a depleted squad away from home, I felt we shouldn’t press our luck and end up caught on a counter.
Final Match Stats:
I was happy to get out of there with that result, as I would prefer for the other shoe to drop when Marseille isn’t wearing it. But I couldn’t resist one last jab. After the match, I told the press I’d expected more out of Lucho Gonzalez, because aside from being in the right place at the right time, he was pretty much a non-factor for the other 89 minutes of the match. That pissed him off. Round 2 should be even better.
Some other fun things… the most expensive signing in the summer transfer window was Mirko Vucinic’s €20.5m transfer from Roma (sorry dhaw) to Man City. Second was Alan Dzagoev moving from CSKA Moscow to Barcelona for €15.5m. Man City also bought: Giovani dos Santos (€14.75m), Lucas (€13m), Hernanes (€10.75m), and Giorginio Wijnaldum (€4.4m).
Here are our upcoming fixtures, the league table, and the team/player stats thus far: