Tactical Battles That Will Shape Paris Saint-Germain's Clash with Lyon
Paris Saint-Germain will step out onto the Stade de France turf to face Olympique Lyonnais on Saturday, with the first domestic cup trophy of the Qatar Sports Investments era at stake.
The French champions have won the Ligue 1 title as well as the Trophee des Champions since QSI arrived in the French capital back in 2011, but they are yet to snare the Coupe de la Ligue or the Coupe de France.
Traditionally, both sides are major players when it comes to both competitions. However, PSG are the more prolific of the two—despite their comparatively short history—boasting three Coupe de la Ligue and eight Coupe de France triumphs to Lyon’s one and five, respectively.
In fact, Saturday’s final is significant for PSG in that they will become the Coupe de la Ligue’s most decorated side with four titles, if they can beat OL.
Remi Garde got the better of opposite number Laurent Blanc last weekend with a 1-0 Ligue 1 victory at the Stade Gerland, but his chances of pulling off a similar shock have taken a hit with the news that five first-team stars will be missing from his squad at the Stade de France, via OL's official website (in French).
Yoann Gourcuff, Clement Grenier and Gueida Fofana are all ruled out through injury, while last weekend’s match winner, Jordan Ferri, is suspended along with goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre.
PSG’s main concern this weekend will be the absence of star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who hit a spectacular double to book the capital club’s place in the final at the expense of FC Nantes back in February. Otherwise, the Ligue 1 leaders are expected to be at full strength.
Here are some tactical battles that will shape this weekend’s Coupe de la Ligue final.
Edinson Cavani vs. Milan Bisevac
Possibly the most decisive battle at the Stade de France on Saturday will be the one between PSG’s out-of-form striker Edinson Cavani and Lyon’s ex-Parisian central defender Milan Bisevac.
Since Ibrahimovic’s injury, his Uruguayan strike partner has struggled to adapt to being the focal point for the side in the attack, despite moving into his preferred central role. His recent blank against OL at the Stade Gerland was one in a string of recent anaemic performances from El Matador.
Cavani will be faced with a rugged, no-nonsense defender in Bisevac on Saturday, a player with a point to prove after he was discarded by PSG after just one season in the French capital. The 30-year-old plays an important role for Garde’s side and is the most experienced member of the defence.
In order for Cavani to start to prove his worth once again, after a poor 2014 so far, the 27-year-old will need to take any and every chance and half chance that comes his way at the Stade de France.
Bisevac, on his day, can frustrate any striker.
Verdict: Cavani to finally come good again.
Blaise Matuidi vs. Maxime Gonalons
Of particular interest in the midfield will be the battle between two of France’s best domestic-based midfield talents. PSG’s Blaise Matuidi will be key for the capital club once again, while Maxime Gonalons will marshal a Lyon midfield already stripped of three of its most important components.
Although the two units do not compare favourably, because of the absences of Gourcuff, Grenier and Fofana on OL’s side, Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti are not likely to have it all their own way.
Gonalons is a talismanic presence in the middle for Garde’s side, while Matuidi’s energy and all-action nature means that this is shaping up to be an enticing dual.
As Lyon proved in their recent 1-0 victory over PSG in Ligue 1, shutting down Blanc’s prized three-man midfield is now becoming easier for sides (Chelsea also enjoyed similar success in Europe lately) and Les Gones will look to do the same on Saturday.
Considering the uphill task facing Gonalons and his teammates because of their lack of options, keeping Matuidi and Co. quiet for 90 minutes or longer will be a big ask.
Verdict: PSG to dominate the midfield.
Ezequiel Lavezzi vs. Mouhamadou Dabo
Possibly the biggest mismatch on paper ahead of Saturday’s Coupe de la Ligue final is Ezequiel Lavezzi’s likely battle with Mouhamadou Dabo on the left could prove to be the area that decides the outcome of this match.
Since the start of 2014, the Argentine has been in scintillating form for PSG, while the Lyon man has barely featured.
Lavezzi has five league goals to his name since the turn of the year, contributing to his best-ever French tally of seven league goals in Ligue 1 this season. Dabo, on the other hand, has only featured twice for OL since last November.
El Pocho, who has also been in impressive form for PSG in Europe, will fancy his chances against the 27-year-old Franco-Senegalese full-back who has spent more time playing on the left than in his preferred right-sided role since arriving at the Stade Gerland in 2011.
Lavezzi will also be keen to make amends after his error in gifting possession to Lyon last weekend created the only goal of the game in the 1-0 defeat.
Verdict: Lavezzi to roast Dabo and atone for his error in last Sunday’s 1-0 defeat in Lyon.
Thiago Silva vs. Alexandre Lacazette
Lyon’s main danger man coming into this clash is without a doubt French international Alexandre Lacazette. Outside of Ibrahimovic and Cavani, the 22-year-old is one of Ligue 1’s leading goalscorers, with 14 strikes to his name so far.
Although Lyon were humiliated 4-0 at the Parc des Princes back in early December, Lacazette even showed in a non-scoring performance that he can be more than a handful for the PSG back line.
The capital club’s captain, Thiago Silva, was still recovering from a thigh injury back then and was given the run-around by the Frenchman who almost scored a memorable solo goal. Expect this to be another exciting encounter between the two.
Lacazette will be a concern for PSG every time he gets the ball but is likely to be let down by the fact that a number of key teammates will be absent on Saturday.
Verdict: Lacazette to impress but PSG to ultimately blunt Lyon.
Gregory van Der Wiel vs. Henri Bedimo
The final battle to keep an eye on in this weekend’s Coupe de la Ligue final is the clash between PSG right-back Gregory van der Wiel and Lyon left-back Henri Bedimo.
Javier Pastore or Lucas Moura are likely to start ahead of Van der Wiel on the right side of the attacking three at the Stade de France, but the Dutchman’s importance going forward for Blanc’s side should not be underestimated.
The 26-year-old is the player Bedimo will be most concerned by. Lyon’s Cameroonian international plays a similar role on the left, though, and Garde will expect him to push forward and give the recently returned Van der Wiel a torrid evening defensively.
Bedimo boasts one goal and eight assists from defence, while the Netherlands international has laid on four goals.
Van der Wiel’s European form has been even more impressive though with a further four assists. Taking into account both clubs' European and cup campaigns, both are tied on eight assists, with Bedimo leading thanks to his one goal scored.
Both players know how to attack and contribute going forward, but Bedimo will have more defensive responsibilities than Van der Wiel on the night, and that may well decide the outcome of this matchup.
Verdict: PSG and Van der Wiel to have the upper hand on the right over Bedimo and Lyon.