Nice vs. Paris Saint-Germain: 6 Things We Learned

Jonathan JohnsonFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

Nice vs. Paris Saint-Germain: 6 Things We Learned

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    Lionel Cironneau

    Paris Saint-Germain stretched their lead at the top of Ligue 1 to a provisional 13 points with a narrow 1-0 win over OGC Nice at the Allianz Riviera on Friday.

    Laurent Blanc named a largely unchanged side ahead of next week’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash with Chelsea but will only feel mildly vindicated after being run close by their determined hosts.

    Timothee Kolodziejczak’s second-half own goal was the ultimate difference between the two sides, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s header forcing the young defender to put through his own net in trying to prevent Edinson Cavani from scoring.

    7 - Paris SG have won their last seven league games, their first time in the top-flight. Invincible.

    — OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 28, 2014

    Blanc must be pleased that PSG extend their lead atop Le Championnat, but it could have been a better warm-up for the Chelsea clash. The French champions were not at their best and did not even appear to be at 100 percent.

    The coach revealed that he had been looking for a more ruthless display after the match (h/t Ligue1.com): 

    "This is a very important victory for the championship. There were a lot of good things in this match, but we also wasted a lot of chances," he said. "The problem is we don't move fast enough in attack. We have to be a lot more ruthless in the opposition penalty box."

    "We need to fix that before Wednesday's Champions League match against Chelsea. We came here looking for the result, and while we didn't play well, we got the job done. The matches before a Champions League game are always difficult so it's a good thing that we got the three points tonight."

    "I said the best way to prepare for Chelsea was to win tonight. It wasn't our best game, but you have to know how to win games like this."

    Although it is impressive that the team can still grind out the results when at far from their best level, Blanc will have some concerns ahead of next week’s European showdown.

    Here are six things we learned from Nice 0-1 PSG.

Nice Not Cut out for Europe

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    Lionel Cironneau

    Although they are dwelling in mid-table, Nice are better than that under Claude Puel’s guidance and showed they are capable of more in their spirited display against PSG on Friday.

    Last season, the former Lille OSC and Olympique Lyonnais coach led Les Aiglons to a miraculous fourth-place finish and UEFA Europa League qualification. This time around, the Cote d’Azur side have struggled to replicate the same impressive form.

    The squad is relatively unchanged from the one that punched above its weight so impressively last campaign, aside from the loss of influential defender Renato Civelli. Nevertheless, it does not possess the necessary depth to cope with European commitments.

    Had Nice not been involved in continental competition since the start of the season—one of the contributing factors to their relatively poor early formthen they could arguably have fared better in Ligue 1 this campaign.

Blanc Did Not Make Most of Rotation Opportunity

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    Lionel Cironneau

    PSG got there eventually against Nice, but coach Laurent Blanc took unnecessary risks in going with a relatively full-strength side ahead of next week’s Champions League clash with Chelsea.

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva were among those starting, when it was expected beforehand that they would be rested or at least rotated mid-match. The extra fatigue incurred by PSG’s stars could prove to be the difference against Chelsea over the next fortnight.

    However, there are five days between the Nice clash and the first leg against Jose Mourinho’s men at the Parc des Princes.

    Although Nice are no walkovers, a rotated side could have fared just as well against Claude Puel’s side and perhaps would have been more motivated with a greater point to prove than Blanc’s regular starting XI.

    Lucas Digne was one of the few given a chance in the changes made by Blanc at the Allianz Riviera and the French international seized his chance, putting in an impressive performance at left-back.

    Cavani’s confidence will have also have been boosted by a contentious goal, but overall it was a risky manoeuvre from Blanc. Little was gained from it when injuries could have been suffered.

    By the same token though, taking on Chelsea with players that have spent 10 days without a game between the Lorient encounter and the Champions League quarterfinal first leg would not have been ideal.

Cvitanich a Flash in the Pan?

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    Claude Paris

    Dario Cvitanich’s debut season in France was one of the most surprising success stories of last term, along with his team’s incredible rise to fourth place in the final standings. However, once again, he was almost invisible against PSG as he continues to suffer from second-season syndrome.

    The journeyman Argentine striker bagged 19 goals and two assists in 29 appearances last term, and although he is still Nice’s top scorer this campaign, the 29-year-old has only netted eight times in 27 outings.

    It is a reduced contribution from Cvitanich, who Les Aiglons were relying on to provide the bulk of their goals this season.

    The Argentine-born striker of Croatian descent’s struggles have coincided with his team’s drop in form, and perhaps Claude Puel regrets not cashing in on last campaign’s star performer when he had the chance.

PSG Winning by Hook or by Crook

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    Lionel Cironneau

    It is said that the sign of a good team is that they can win ugly. PSG can certainly do that and have done just that in their past two matches. FC Lorient were seen off by one goal before Nice and the French champions were also below their best at the Stade du Moustoir.

    Victory at the Allianz Riviera was obtained rather fortuitously via a Timothee Kolodziejczak own goal, as there were questions asked of Edinson Cavani’s role in the build-up. The goal stood, but it was hardly convincing stuff from PSG, who have now been rather lucky two weeks in a row.

    Credit must also go to Nice's Colombian international goalkeeper David Ospina for keeping the Parisians at bay for most of the match aside from Kolodziejczak's own goal. The 25-year-old made a string of impressive saves to prevent the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from scoring and is one of le Championnat's most underrated shot stoppers.

    3 - PSG have benefited from an own-goal for the 3rd time this season in Ligue 1, more than any other team. Pressing.

    — OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 28, 2014

    For now, it has not cost Laurent Blanc’s men, but in the future, the team will need to start winning games in more substantial fashion. Otherwise, those three-point hauls will start turning into frustrating draws.

Puel Is Rebuilding His Career Impressively at Nice

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    Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Although they lost 1-0, Nice were largely PSG’s equals on Friday and can consider themselves unlucky to have lost the match.

    Had Dario Cvitanich’s early effort not been ruled out for offside—for what would have been a first goal in eight games for the Argentinethen the final score might have been different. However, Les Aiglons were not able to find the breakthrough they needed on the day.

    Claude Puel can be happy with his side, though.

    The hosts gave as good as they got, created chances and put PSG under pressure. That is all the former Lille OSC and Olympique Lyonnais man could have asked them to do before the match, considering the financial gulf between the two sides.

    Despite the result though, the future is bright for Nice and their recovering coach, who is reviving his career in impressive fashion on the Cote d’Azur after a damaging exit from former club Lyon in 2011.

Impregnable PSG

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    Michel Spingler

    PSG’s 1-0 win over Nice was their fifth consecutive clean sheet.

    Not only are the French champions a provisional 13 points clear of title rivals AS Monaco and 12 points better off than they were at this stage last season, they are also better off defensively by two goals.

    47 - Paris SG have won 47 games in Ligue 1 since last season, 14 more than any other team. Domination.

    — OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 28, 2014

    That is thanks to an impressive run of clean sheets since January.

    PSG have yet to concede a single league goal at home this calendar year, and the last time they failed to successfully shut out their opponents was away at Monaco back in early February.

    Blanc seems to have finally gotten a handle on the Parisians’ leaky defence from earlier on in the season.