Monaco have the perfect opportunity to cement their status as favorites for the Ligue 1 title on Sunday, as they head to the capital to take on champions Paris Saint-Germain.
The visitors, who sit top of the pile in France’s top flight, have evolved into the most exciting team in European football, netting 64 goals in their 21 league matches so far this term. Needless to say, they’ll head into what is undoubtedly their biggest game of the season with spirits sky high.
PSG, meanwhile, will feel as though they can restore some order to the top flight with a victory. Unai Emery’s team have been short of the standards they’ve set in recent seasons for the majority of 2016-17, although there have been small signs in recent outings they are beginning to get their act together again.
The acquisitions made by the Parisians in January have refreshed a squad that felt a little stale early in the campaign too. Julian Draxler has already made an impact, netting twice in his first two games for the club, while Goncalo Guedes, a pricey acquisition from Benfica, could make his debut in the crunch clash this weekend.
The structure, intensity and desire in this PSG team will be tested on Sunday, though. Under Leonardo Jardim, who formerly held a reputation as a pragmatic coach, Monaco have cultivated a spirit and determination to complement their attacking fvim. Evidently, they’re a team that are absolutely desperate to scale the Ligue 1 summit.
A win at the home of the champions would potentially provide the momentum needed to go on and secure what’d be a stunning title win. Here’s a look at how this enormous contest is set to play out.
Date: Sunday, January 29, 2017
Time: 3 p.m. (ET), Noon (PT)
TV: Not available live on US television
Streaming: beIN SPORTS Connect and fuboTV (free trial)
Even though the game isn’t live on television, you can cast it to your TV using fuboTV and beIN SPORTS Connect, or you can watch it on your smartphone, tablet or computer. See more details.
Despite failing to live up to the high standards set in recent years during the early portion of the Ligue 1 campaign, PSG remain in contention to clinch what’d be a fifth successive league title. A win here would represent a ruthless reality check for their vibrant challengers too.
With an important run-in to come, it feels as though the manager and team need a big win to kick their season up a gear too. In the key matches so far under Emery, there’s been a nervousness about PSG, epitomised when former Ligue 1 leaders Nice came to the Parc des Princes last month and stunned the champions with two early goals.
That they were able to recover a 2-2 draw that day is a measure of the quality and depth of this PSG squad, although you sense similar hesitancies will be punished ruthlessly here against European football’s most in-form attacking side.
Of course, the champions have firepower of their own. Edinson Cavani, for all his critics, has notched 20 goals in Ligue 1 already this term, while Draxler has added a guile and impetus to the final third that was provided by Angel Di Maria last season; the Argentina international is enduring a torrid spell in 2016-17, though.
There’s momentum behind the champions coming into this contest against the principality club too, with six wins secured in succession and one goal conceded in that time. Additionally, Emery’s squad is bristling with players better acquainted with these blue ribband matches.
As PSG look to puff their chest out and bullishly reassert their status as the dominant force in French football, that nous can be so important. A win here would put them level on points with Monaco and given the class in their squad, if they were to secure parity on Sunday, surely it’d be the catalyst for another league title.
Although Monaco have played with an attacking verve and endearing ambition for much of the campaign, it’s only recently they’ve given off the aura of potential title winners.
The recent win at Marseille was the most surefire sign yet that Jardim’s effervescent young squad is a contender for glory. The Stade Velodrome was fervent, their team were in form, but Monaco nullified their attacking threats and managed the match superbly in a 4-1 win. It was a display of maturity from Europe’s great entertainers.
At the moment, Monaco have struck a wonderful balance in their squad. While it’s wonderful to see veteran forward Radamel Falcao rediscover his goalscoring touch this term, he’s backed up by a mechanical setup bristling with young, energetic and physical footballers.
The two men on the flanks best epitomise the variety in the Monaco attack. On the left, Thomas Lemar has been a dazzling, dynamic presence, using his searing pace, close control and eye for goal to give many a right-back a bloody nose. On the right, the class and composure of Bernardo Silva makes this attacking juggernaut tick.
There’s an industry to their play too. Valerie Germain is a brilliant foil for Falcao up top, Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko are an often impenetrable midfield partnership, while full-backs Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy are insatiable in their appetite for hard work.
Monaco were the last team to beat PSG in the league at the Parc des Princes, while they were also comfortable 3-1 winners when they met earlier in the campaign at the Stade Louis II, so plenty of this squad will have positive recent memories from their clashes with the champions. However, there’s a sense that in this meeting of these two French giants, there’s something more pertinent than three points on the line.
Key Battle – Layvin Kurzawa vs. Bernardo Silva
Formerly of Monaco, the match will be a huge one for Kurzawa, who will have crucial duties in both defense and attack.
Going forward, he’s the man who provides width on the left flank. Since his arrival at the club, Draxler has been utilized from the left wing and naturally drifts infield seeking to influence the play. The German’s roaming leaves space for Kurzawa to burst into; earlier in the season, Monaco used Sidibe on the right of midfield in an attempt to stem his influence.
However, Jardim will not want to move Silva out of a position from which he’s been so effective as of late. The Portugal international has taken his game on this season, locating space with ease in the final third. When on the ball, his ability to conjure opportunities and find the net himself has been so important to Monaco’s irresistible attacking play.
The natural inclinations of both these men is to push forward and influence their side’s attacking work. However, both managers will be wary of the threat their direct opponent poses and it’ll be intriguing to see whether either player is ready to tame their enterprising instincts.
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