With just nine matches to go until the end of the Ligue 1 season, champions Paris Saint-Germain are closing in on a first-ever successful title defence. Sunday’s victory over AS Saint-Etienne restored the capital club’s eight-point lead over AS Monaco at the top of the table and Laurent Blanc’s men are in formidable form.
Little, it seems, stands between PSG and a fourth French title in the club’s near 44-year history.
The biggest concern for the Parisians between now and May 17 is that the team becomes complacent and starts to drop silly points that allow Monaco back into the title race.
PSG have only lost once in their last 40 games in Le Championnat. That one defeat was a 2-0 loss away to Evian Thonon Gaillard, when the team were on the verge of bettering their own club record of 27 league matches unbeaten, just five short of FC Nantes' all-time record of 32.
At that time, the Savoyard side were 16th in the table and Blanc’s side arguably thought that they had already won the game before they even stepped out onto the pitch.
Le President himself was also guilty of overconfidence, heavily rotating his squad despite knowing how difficult a place the Parc des Sports in Annecy is to go in winter.
Since then, PSG have been careful not to approach their games with overconfidence and that is exactly what they need to do between now and the end of the season. That complacency and lack of focus was evident again in the UEFA Champions League last-16 second leg against Bayer Leverkusen.
Although Blanc’s side led 4-0 from the first leg going into last week’s return match, the team found it difficult to focus and fell behind before going on to win 2-1 on the night.
The champions must ensure that they avoid these lapses in Ligue 1, while continuing to fight for success in Europe and when they take on Olympique Lyonnais in the Coupe de la Ligue final at Stade de France in April.
Generally speaking, they have so far.
So how can they remain motivated, even in the easy games, between now and the end of the season?
What makes PSG so difficult to play against, domestically and in Europe, is that Blanc has instilled such a high level of performance within the team. Even when not at their best, they are still normally too powerful for their opponents.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that the capital outfit have now gone from being a largely counter-attacking team under Carlo Ancelotti to a more possession-based side under Blanc. Simply put, the opposition do not get enough of the ball during games, certainly not domestically, to trouble PSG.
Lacking motivation may lead the team to produce some unimaginative performances, but that does not mean that the team will necessarily lose too many matches in the next few months.
The hunger and desire is there regularly in Europe but, as it did last year, the time has come now for PSG to challenge themselves against one of the competition’s top teams. In the league though, there are few sides that Blanc’s men will worry about and they have already faced title rivals Monaco twice.
Although it might not be pretty at times, barring a complete implosion and loss of composure, eight points is almost certainly an insurmountable gap for les Monegasques at this stage. Such a collapse is made more unlikely by the fact that PSG have the experience of last year’s title victory to call upon as they try to continue grinding out the results in the league.
Concerning the Coupe de la Ligue, the Stade de France showdown on April 19 gives the Parisians the chance to secure a first-ever league-and-cup double, having won both the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue titles in the 1997-1998 season.
With so much to play for, claims that PSG might lose focus in the final stretch of the season are wide off the mark.
Domestically, the team have plenty to achieve if they can win their second consecutive title as well as a cup triumph. In Europe, a draw against one of the weaker teams left after this week’s second-leg fixtures could pose the threat of complacency, although the prospect of reaching the semi-finals should be more than enough.
Still all to play for in the French capital then.
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