Feb 12, 2013, 8:13 PM EDT
It’s rare that you see the word “escaped” applied to a 2-1 road victory, but by the end of Paris Saint-Garmain’s Tuesday trip to Valencia’s Mestalla, the Parisians would be right to feel like the final whistle cam at just the right moment. A late Adil Rami goal had halved their lead before a stunning late red card for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PSG were left to see out the match’s final moments packed into their own end before being awarded a valuable road victory, 2-1.
The win was the result of two isolated moments in a match that was otherwise controlled by Los Che. In the 10th minute, a one-two between Ezequiel Lavezzi and fellow Argentine Javier Pastore allowed the duo to crack the left side of Valencia’s defense, putting the Parisians up 1-0. Just before halftime, Pastore’s quick shot off a Lucas Moura cross beat Vicente Guaita between the legs, the goalkeeper’s left foot the last touch on what would prove the game-winning goal.
That early edge, along with stalwart defensive play from PSG’s midfield, allowed the visitors to give Valencia control of the game, something that nearly proved fruitless. Then a late foul from substitute Sylvain Armand allowed Tino Costa to drop a 90th minute restart behind the Parisian line. An unmarked Adil Rami gave Valencia their hope-restoring goal.
But the story coming out of today’s match will the Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s red card. After a good if unspectacular game, Ibrahimovic was dismissed after a stoppage time challenge on Andres Guardado saw the Swede go over the top of the ball and stomp on his opponent’s right foot. He’ll miss the return leg in Paris.
Man of the Match: PSG’s defensive effort was the difference in this match, and that effort was led by midfielder Blaise Matuidi, one of the team’s two best players this season. Because he exists in a world defined by Ibrahimovic, the French international doesn’t get the attention he deserves, but on Tuesday people saw why the 25-year-old has become crucial to his team’s success.
At the tip if a defense tasked with disrupting a team that held 65 percent of the game’s possession, Matuidi had a game-high five interceptions. His presence in the middle (along with Marco Veratti’s) helped take Ever Banega out of the match, while his forays forward to put pressure on Costa contributed to some of the Argentine’s early struggles.
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PSG is ready to compete for Champions League - Nobody’s going to confuse Valencia for title contenders, but getting results on the road in Champions League — particularly at this point in the competition — is difficult. Some teams don’t even try to win road matches, content to take stalemates into their home legs.
Not so for PSG. They scored early, took advantage of a breakdown before halftime, and despite a late wobble, took a win and two away goals out of Spain. In the process, they dispelled the notion that the group’s lack of Champions League experience would be a hinderance.
Sure, the team has individuals who’ve played in Champions League. Ibrahimovic is in this competition every year, and Thiago Silva came from Milan. But as a collective, this team has never tried to navigate these waters before.
One year after Borussia Dortmund, Lille, and Manchester City fell flat in Champions League, it was reasonable to ask whether PSG’s uptake would be as slow. Now, we can disregard that notion.
Ancelotti’s got his midfield working - Matuidi wasn’t the only PSG midfielder putting forth an effort. Marco Veratti has come a long way since the beginning of the season, his game-high seven tackles showing he no longer needs to be protected in the middle. Out wide, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore — two players known for their work in other facets of the game — proved they can fulfill wide midfielders’ responsibilities in a 4-4-2.
Six months ago, none of those names projected as players who could provide this kind of defensive. A team with Valencia’s skill would have exploited them. But Carlo Ancelotti brought something new out of the trio. As a result, PSG looks a good bet to go through.
Tino Costa as a metaphor for the match - In the first half, when the game was in doubt, Valencia couldn’t take advantage of the possession they were given. They couldn’t even mount any meaningful chances on Salvatore Sirigu. PSG looked set to deflect Valencia’s attacks through full time and take a cleansheet back to Paris.
A big part of that was Tino Costa. The Valencia regista was off early on, spraying balls across the field that were more speculative than surgical. His short passing was being disrupted by Matuidi. Costa was not only undermining Valencia attacks, he was giving PSG opportunities to counter.
As Costa came into the match, Valencia became more effective. Near the 30 minute-mark, when the Argentine started improving, Valencia was finally able to threaten down the flanks. As Valencia drew more fouls, they were able to bring Costa’s dead ball service into play, service which eventually let to Los Che’s only goal.
With midfield partner Daniel Parejo a non-factor through most of the day’s match, Valencia’s output ended up reflecting what Costa was able to accomplish. When Costa came on late, his team was able to score. But until that point, they couldn’t crack PSG’s defense.
Packaged for takeaway
- We’ll try to post Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s controversial tackle later. Suffice to say, not all of you will agree with Paolo Tagliabento’s decision.
- Valencia originally set up in a 4-2-3-1 but switched at halftime, going to a 4-4-2 when Nelson Valdez and Sergio Canales came on for Banega and Jonas. The change had little effect.
- PSG became the first French team to beat Valencia since 1980.
- Thiagos Silva and Motta both missed today’s match, though it’s unclear how much either would have mattered. PSG’s defense was pretty well shielded, while Motta’s unlikely to have performed better than either starting central midfielder.
- Mexican international Andres Guardado got another start at left back for Valencia, a position that’s become more common for him as his team has battled fitness concerns over the last month. It would be scary if Mexico started using the veteran in this role, a switch that would allow Chepo de la Torre to get yet another attacking threat on the field.
- Last summer he was one of the best right backs at Euro 2012, but each time you watch Joao Perriera you’re reminded: The Portuguese international is a truly under-appreciated player. Because he lacks the athleticism we’ve come to look for in fullbacks, he doesn’t get brought up in many “Best of” conversations. Yet as he showed on Tuesday, there’s nothing he can’t do well.
- Had his ninth minute shot gone in, Lucas Moura would have been clear Man of the Match. That early blast from well outside the box only rattled Vicente Guaita’s goal, but it was enough to elicit some gasps from the Valencia crowd. His work just before halftime also created Pastore’s goal.
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