Paris Saint-Germain Held by Sochaux as Laurent Blanc Shows Tactical Weakness

Andrew Gibney@@gibney_aFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2014

Paris Saint Germain's Lucas Rodrigues Moura Da Silva, center, reacts during their French League One soccer match against Sochaux, in Sochaux, eastern France, Sunday, April 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
Laurent Cipriani

Paris Saint-Germain went into Sunday afternoon’s game against Sochaux knowing exactly what they had to do to retain the Ligue 1 title: win. Sochaux hadn’t read the script, and in one of the most entertaining games France has seen this season the relegation-threatened side took the game to the champions-elect and the 1-1 final score was the least that they deserved.

A 24th-minute strike from Edinson Cavani gave the away side a 1-0 lead at the break and it looked like Sochaux would ultimately come up short despite their strong start.

Full credit, therefore, has to go to Herve Renard and his side’s wonderful second-half performance. They attacked PSG with everything they had, threw caution to the wind and played like their lives depended on it.

Laurent Cipriani

Their equaliser came just before the hour mark when Florian Marange played in a dangerous cross from the left. Salvatore Sirigu tried to punch clear, but could only watch as the ball rebounded off Thiago Silva and into his goal.

If Laurent Blanc could get his side to play with the same desire and intensity as Renard got from his team on Sunday afternoon then there is little doubt the title would have been wrapped up weeks ago.

Now Blanc and his PSG side must wait 10 days until they host Rennes at the Parc des Princes before they can seal this year’s title. They are eight points ahead of Monaco with three games to go, and though it would still take a miracle for the Parisians to be overturned, each failing result asks more questions about Laurent Blanc and his ability to command a team at the very highest level.

It was never going to be easy for Laurent Blanc’s side. With Sochaux fighting for their lives down in the relegation zone, the value of picking up points was more important for the side from Montbeliard than the champions. In the first 15 minutes it was hard to pick up which side was going for the title as Sochaux piled on the early pressure.

After weathering the early storm, PSG began to gain control of the match with chances falling to both Edinson Cavani and Lucas Moura. The breakthrough came on the 24th minute and it was well worth the wait.

With the ball in their own half, Thiago Motta looked up and spotted the Uruguayan striker's run. The pass was played to perfection, Cavani controlled the ball majestically on his chest and struck a right-foot volley beyond Yohann Pele in the Sochaux net.

It would have been a goal worthy of winning the league, but Sochaux would not go down without a fight, and PSG, despite some excellent chances, couldn’t find a way past an inspired Yohann Pele.

Once Sochaux had equalised, the game really opened up and became a real see-saw battle, but the PSG attack struggled to break down the resolute home defence.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:  Head Coach Laurent Blanc of PSG looks on during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final second leg match between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain FC at Stamford Bridge on April 8, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

It is hard to put blame on one specific part of PSG’s play, but the finger must ultimately be pointed toward Laurent Blanc. In the first half of the season, when everything was going well and PSG were winning for fun, there was no questioning of his methods. However, in the last month the results haven’t always gone in his favour and questions are now being asked.

Laurent Blanc’s lack of a Plan B was recently discussed by BR columnist Jonathan Johnson, but the problem goes much deeper. For the majority of the season, PSG have lined up playing 4-3-3, and for the most part it has worked, but it’s when they struggle to break down stubborn defences that Blanc fails to react.

In the first instance you can blame the players for not performing, but it is up to Blanc to recognise where they are going wrong and rectify the situation through tactical substitutions.

Week after week Blanc seems determined to only make like-for-like changes, keeping the shape and system the same for the whole game and hoping the change in personnel will be enough to change the direction of the match.

Changing centre midfielder Marco Verratti for Yohan Cabaye, wingers Ezequiel Lavezzi for Javier Pastore and Lucas Moura for Jeremy Menez does not do anything to adapt the style and approach of the PSG attack.

For a defence that had coped and adapted very well to most of PSG’s advances, it would have been a welcome sight to see the same type of threat coming from similar areas.

The away side had their chances. Verratti missed a brilliant chance to score his first ever goal for PSG, his shot tamely hit straight at Pele. However, it was big chance in a game where PSG failed to break down Renard’s stubborn back line.

On another day Verratti or Cavani would have put away their chances and PSG would have been crowned champions, but the criticism of Blanc is not just on today’s performance—it is something that has been evident for the majority of the season.

Qatari Sports Authority wants the Parisian side to become one of Europe’s elite teams, and to do that they need to be able to beat the best teams while still dominating in France. Although this season there have been signs of improvement from Laurent Blanc and his management style, it is very clear that he still has a lot to learn and a long way to go.

The pressure then turns to QSA and their ambitious owners. Laurent Blanc, with time, could be the man to lead them to where they want to be, but if they want instant results they may not have the right man in charge.

Patience is not a trait commonly found in clubs with rich owners, and without learning from the mistakes of teams in a similar position, it could be a few more years before PSG reach the level that they ultimately desire.