Paris Saint-Germain’s narrow 2-1 victory over Nancy, their perennial bogey side, stretched their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to five points on Saturday. The three points came courtesy of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic double, but like against Valencia in the champions League in midweek, PSG made hard work of their opponents.
Benjamin Moukandjo’s header had sent the visitors from Lorraine into a half-time lead, threatening a fourth consecutive victory in the capital. However, the Swede once again was at the double for the hosts, the seventh time this season, to secure a vital win.
It wasn’t just down to Ibra, though. Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi were superb in midfield whilst Jeremy Menez did well once again coming off the bench. Kevin Gameiro impressed fleetingly, too, before David Beckham also made it onto the pitch after a midweek no-show against Valencia.
Here are six things we learned from a determined victory from Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Ibrahimovic Is Irreplaceable for PSG
With so much speculation surrounding Ibrahimovic, the towering striker had the perfect ripost for his critics inside and outside of the club.
Two goals and three points, from a game similar to the frustrating spectacle that was Wednesday night’s 1-1 Champions League draw with Valencia, proved the difference between PSG with the Swede and PSG without.
On Wednesday, they laboured to a draw that eventually secured their qualification for the quarterfinals of Europe’s most prestigious club competition. But they lacked the cutting edge up front that Ibrahimovic brings.
The result laid bare the 31-year-old’s biggest strength and at the same time his greatest weakness: PSG are powerless without him. Twenty-eight goals in 36 appearances since joining the capital club, though, illustrates that it is arguably more of help than a hindrance.
Nancy Are Not Dead and Buried Just Yet
Many had written the side from Lorraine off weeks ago when they sold the likes of Yohan Mollo and Massadio Haidara before parting ways with coach Jean Fernandez.
In recent weeks, they have turned the corner and are putting in performances capable of keeping the club in the French top flight. The only concern is that it is too little, too late.
That said, Nancy’s performance at the Parc des Princes is something that they should take great heart from. Patrick Gabriel’s side were the better side in the first half against the league leaders, and they threatened on a number of occasions in the second.
Florent Zitte’s late effort crashed off the post and ASNL created enough chances over the 90 minutes to take at least a point.
PSG Play Better Without Pastore
Something pertinent but at the same time not exactly new is that PSG often play better when Javier Pastore is not on the pitch than when he is on it.
Perhaps it was Marco Verratti's and Blaise Matuidi’s superb performances in the centre of the park that detracted from his showing, but it is hard to find positives in a €42 million football player that misplaces 12 passes in 45 first-half minutes.
The Argentine is one of those players who appears to raise his game when playing in the Champions League, but appears underwhelmed by domestic opposition. It was the case once again against Nancy.
With Jeremy Menez and Kevin Gameiro once again coming off the bench to provide more useful input in less time on the pitch than Pastore, it is surely only a matter of time before the misfiring star is dropped.
Nancy Still a Thorn in PSG’s Side
Nancy have traditionally given PSG a hard time in the capital, and today was no different.
The side from Lorraine have a fighting spirit that was personified under former coach Pablo Correa and is something that appears ingrained in the club’s DNA despite the majority of the Uruguayan’s players having now departed.
The team is not going down without a fight, although this result could prove terminal, as Troyes capitalised on the slip to move off the bottom at ASNL’s expense.
Nancy gave PSG a good battle, though, and proved that what they lack in skill and talent, they make up for in determination and desire to win. That hunger could yet keep them up by the skin of their teeth.
Ancelotti’s Recovery Is Almost Complete
The Italian coach appears to no longer be viewed as a potential pariah. In early December when the team was struggling, it looked like the pressure was starting to tell. Now, according to PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, Ancelotti is doing “an excellent job” and “coping well” with the task.
The words, whether or not genuine, mark a major turnaround in the Italian’s fortunes, as he finally appears to have got the backing he needs.
Keeping Ancelotti would be a massive step in the right direction for the club and a far better alternative than bringing the Jose Mourinho circus to town.
A Champions League quarterfinal, Coupe de France quarterfinal and being at the top of the league by five points is better than the club’s owners could have hoped at the start of the season, surely.
Nancy Made Right Decision to Appoint Gabriel as Coach
When the club decided to part company with Jean Fernandez just days after they had dispensed with two of their most talented assets, many thought the writing was on the wall for Nancy.
It very well could have been, but Patrick Gabriel has brought the club closer to avoiding the drop than anybody would have given him credit for two months ago.
Some recent performances of dogged tenacity and sheer determination to not go down without all guns blazing has seen ASNL pick up some vital points.
Even if they do go down, Gabriel looks more than capable of leading the side back up at the first attempt, as they will expect minor changes to personnel should they drop into Ligue 2 come May.