Paris Saint-Germain head to Saint-Etienne on Sunday and for one member of the team in particular, it is a fixture that they have been looking forward to since arriving at the club.
The Stade Geoffroy Guichard is the scene of David Beckham’s biggest sporting failure: his red card vs. Argentina in the 1998 World Cup that helped contribute towards Glenn Hoddle’s side’s penalty defeat. Beckham has not suffered many sporting failures in his illustrious career, but this is a score he will want to have settled since arriving in the capital.
Fifteen years later, Beckham is looking to exorcise his demons, and PSG also have a point to prove. Les Verts have already beaten them twice this season, winning at the Parc des Princes in the league in November and knocking them out of the Coupe de la Ligue on penalties a few weeks later.
The Englishman’s chances of playing from the start depend on Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti. If fit, the promising pair will justifiably start ahead of the 37-year-old and continue their blossoming partnership, meaning Beckham will have to kick his heels on the bench. That is how it should be given the magnitude of the game and not to mention the pace of this ASSE team.
Beckham will not likely be played from the start in this most crucial of clashes for PSG because Ancelotti’s team cannot afford to make a poor start that would require early tactical changes. A win would see them pull further clear of the chasing pack at the top, but a defeat could prove disastrous.
Christophe Galtier’s men currently lie in fourth, but a win over PSG coupled with defeat for Marseille in third, would allow les Stephanois into a Champions League qualification position.
ASSE are unbeaten in 2013, something not lost on any of Ligue 1 currently as the club’s modern-day incarnation are closer to a top-3 for the first time since 1982 than ever before. With plenty at stake for Galtier’s side, Champions League qualification is a must.
Particularly regarding the future of star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who approaches the match having scored in each of the club’s last six matches (16 in total so far this term). European football may represent les Verts' only chance of keeping the hotshot past the end of the season, given that he is the second-best striker in Ligue 1 behind Sunday’s opponent Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s incredible 24-goal haul so far this year.
Beckham though could play a part through injury to Lucas Moura. The Brazilian suffered an ankle injury against Nancy at the weekend and initially was thought to be facing surgery. However, the club have since confirmed that he will only likely miss a fortnight, potentially forcing Ancelotti into a re-think regarding his line-up.
With Moura absent, a space opens up on the right if the Italian wants to keep his PSG starting formation intact. Ezequiel Lavezzi looks to have secured the starting berth alongside Ibrahimovic, meaning that Pastore’s deployment on the left-hand side of the pitch will probably stick until at least the end of the season. That means that Beckham, Jeremy Menez and Clement Chantome will be in contention for the starting berth on the right.
Saturday’s 2-1 win over Nancy was a booking-less clash for Verratti, and Matuidi is not only in superlative form, but will also be facing his former side. There is little chance either will be dislodged ahead of a crucial game in favour of Beckham or Chantome, unless Ancelotti wants experience, in which case he’d favour Beckham over the young Italian. That is unlikely. Thiago Motta could also come into the equation but has not been passed fit to play yet.
Menez should secure the starting berth on the right given that Beckham was signed as a central midfielder, not as a wide man. Chantome, too, in any case also has the advantage over Beckham, physically in a much better position to start the match than the Englishman. But Menez’s direct threat from wide is expected to win out; his presence would help PSG match their hosts’ dangerous penetration from the wings.
That is where Ancelotti’s side have to be prepared. Saint-Etienne have so much talent going forward, even with on-loan midfielder Mathieu Bodmer likely to miss out against his parent club. The unfortunate injury to former PSG star Jeremy Clement in the hosts’ midfield is a big blow for Galtier, but their attacking unit could be boosted by the return of Brandao.
Between them, the Brazilian and Gabonese star Aubameyang have scored 25 goals this season, over half of Saint-Etienne’s total number of strikes. Ancelotti favouring a more defensive approach than normal is not beyond the realm of possibility though, and that would offer an opportunity to Beckham to join Matuidi and Verratti in a midfield trio.
That would be a big risk, though, particularly given ASSE’s attacking prowess and PSG’s struggles at times when Ibra has played alone up top and three men have been stationed in the middle. Not the time to risk falling back on old habits.
More likely, Beckham will start on the bench and have to formulate a plan to make an impact as a substitute. A match-winning cameo would be the best solution for all parties involved, but unless injuries dictate that he needs to come on or PSG are comfortably leading with a short period remaining, there is no guarantee that Ancelotti will call on the Englishman.