What: French Ligue 1
Who: Lille vs Paris Saint-Germain
When: Sunday 2nd September, 2012, at 20:00 UK Time
Where: Grand Stade Lille Metropole, Lille, France

Last Gasp Lille Refocus for Title Showdown

Les Dogues’ will go into this game on a high after a dramatic Champions League qualifying victory over Danish champions FC Copenhagen. Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Rudi Garcia’s side needed an extra time header from Tulio de Melo to secure their spot in the group stages alongside their opponents here PSG, and champions Montpellier.

It has been a mixed start to the season for the 2011 champions, who have let their focus slip from domestic action to prioritise qualification for the Champions League. Although Lille are still unbeaten, with a victory and two draws, they will be disappointed with their start. Draws at home to Nancy and away to Nice are not what potential champions are made of, particularly given the runaround they were subjected to by the latter last weekend.

Nonetheless, Garcia will point to the distraction of the Champions League, forcing him to rotate his squad more than he may otherwise have liked, as well as the move into a new stadium as mitigating factors. Playing at a new home can be tricky to adjust to. Arsenal struggled at first when they moved to the Emirates Stadium, but then Juventus and Bayern Munich both won the league in their first season in new home grounds. Garcia will hope his players have more in the tank for this after their midweek exertions and the chance to put one over on PSG will be an easy motivating tool.

Ancelotti Struggles to Find the Right Blend

Two successive goalless draws and little sign of a goal coming either; PSG have been woefully short of expectations, with chatter starting over whether Carlo Ancelotti really has what it takes to pull the team together.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic rescued a point for Ancelotti’s side in the opening game of the season at home to Lorient in the last minute. That was the last goal the Parisians have scored though and Ancelotti will have been pondering over how a team boasting the talents of Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Nene, Jeremy Menez and Javier Pastore – to name just five – have struggled. Much of the difficulty has been found in the endless rotation of Ancelotti, only exacerbated by another summer of heavy spending.

The Italian’s expensively assembled team have struggled to overcome a variety of threats, from the counter attacking skill of Lorient to teams who have sat back against them, such as Bordeaux last weekend. That is only going to be harder when a team are bedding in together, but the cohesion and speed missing from their play so far this season would be corrected by a more gradual evolution of the team.

Ancelotti will be concerned after Ibrahimovic and Nene clashed in training. Two of his more important players, that they get along is vital, but a tackle from the Brazilian appears to have aggravated an injury the Swede has been carrying. If he is absent, then the Italian coach would do well to turn to a front three of Nene, Menez and Pastore, who looked thrilling together last season, but have had little time together this year.

If Ibrahimovic is fit, given that Antoine Kombouare took PSG to the top of Ligue 1 playing the trio behind a centre forward in a 4-2-3-1, it would be an apt time for Ancelotti to abandon the central midfield three he enjoys using and try to replicate the system he inherited last December, with the Swede as the lone forward.

Recent form

Lill 2–0 FC Copenhagen AET (29/08; Champions League)
Nice 2-2 Lille (25/08; Ligue 1)
FC Copenhagen 1-0 Lille (21/08; Champions League)

Paris Saint-Germain:
Paris Saint-Germain 0-0 Bordeaux (26/08; Ligue 1)
Ajaccio 0-0 Paris Saint-Germain (19/08; Ligue 1)
Paris Saint-Germain 2-2 Lorient  (11/08; Ligue 1)

Key absences

Lille: Mathieu Debuchy; Marco Basa (doubt)

Paris Saint-Germain:
Nicolas Douchez (doubt); Mohamed Sissoko (doubt); Thiago Motta (doubt); Zlatan Ibrahimovic (doubt); Ezequiel Lavezzi; Clemente Chantome; Mathieu Bodmer; Siaka Tiene

Players to watch

Lille – Marvin Martin. Martin has been effectively handed the task of replacing Eden Hazard. But no one can really replace Hazard and instead, Garcia is hoping the likes of Dmitry Payet, Salomon Kalou and Martin can chip in with the goals and assists Lille will lose following the Belgian’s departure. Martin is the most likely to create, being one of the best assist providers in France in recent years. His touch, awareness and vision will be just what Garcia needs to unlock the PSG defence.

Paris Saint-Germain – Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Predicting a Carlo Ancelotti line-up has become an increasingly hazardous game, with Ibrahimovic one of the few who can be assumed to start this match with any certainty if fit. The Swede has been learning  the French game quickly as PSG have had to tackle three very different types of team in Lorient, Ajaccio and Bordeaux. Lille will look to dominate possession and force the Parisians back and using Ibrahimovic’s skill and presence on the break will be particularly important. And the lanky forward is of course one of the world’s best match winners.

Match Prediction

Although the French title race is notoriously unpredictable and in spite of Marseille’s good start, on paper this looks like a battle between the two contenders for the Ligue 1 crown. PSG though are huge favourites and all the expectation is on them after their poor start to the season.

Still struggling to find their cohesion, PSG could be in for a tough afternoon against perhaps France’s best passing team. Ancelotti’s defensively-minded midfield trio may disrupt the rhythm of Garcia’s side though and it is not obvious where the goals will come from in this game. Lille’s approach play is often good, but Nolan Roux and Tulio de Melo, their main strikers, are yet to score in the league. In fact, Roux’s last goal was against PSG in April.

PSG meanwhile have so many potential goalscorers but have not looked great in possession and have struggled to carve out clear chances. If either side is likelier to win this, it could well be Lille, but after their midweek exertions and the probable debut of Thiago Silva, it could be yet another draw for both – and a goalless one at that. Lille 0-0 Paris Saint-Germain.

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