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Draw with Paris Saint-Germain leaves Monaco five points back in France

Feb 10, 2014, 12:08 AM EDT

ibrahimovic_carvalho AP

Radamel Falcao’s knee injury was seen as a huge blow to Colombia’s chances at the World Cup, but it also had the potential to end whatever thin chance Monaco had to catch Paris Saint-Germain at the top of Ligue 1. But with the league-leading Parisians also missing one of the main scoring threats, today’s match at Stade Louis II gave Claudio Ranieri’s team an opening. With a win, Monaco would  claw within two points of the defending champions.

Unfortunately for Monaco, it was Edinson Cavani (not leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic) that was sitting out. Equally unfortunate for Monaco, it’s situations like these where PSG’s prodigious spending really pays off. Instead of having to take on a Dimitar Berbatov-esque reclamation project (as Monaco did at the end of the transfer window), Laurent Blanc can turn to his bench and have his choice of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez.

Surprisingly, the PSG boss chose neither for Sunday’s showdown. Instead, Blanc moved Javier Pastore into attack and started Italian midfielder Marco Verratti, a move that paid off when the Argentine midfielder put PSG in front in the eighth minute. Converting Alex’s flick on an early Thiago Motta corner, the former Palermo star registered his first goal of the season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has two good chances to double PSG’s lead, while James Rodriguez and Emmanuel Riviere each threatened to equalize before intermission. Yet despite those chances, the eventual inclusion of Berbatov, and a handful of close calls for the Parisians, Pastore’s opener held up until the 74th minute.

That’s when Thiago Silva, attempting to play a cross from Monaco fullback Fabinho, equalized for the home side. Putting his countryman’s ball past his own goalkeeper, the Brazilian international allowed the home team to salvage a point with a 1-1 draw.

For some, the final will be seen as a sign Monaco can compete with the Parisians – the holders being within reach of the league’s next power. But if Monaco really harbor ambitions of claiming an unlikely title, today’s result did them no good. With their best chance to close the gap between themselves and the leaders, last season’s Ligue 2 champions couldn’t narrow their five-point gap. At home against the team that sits between them and a title, Monaco couldn’t muster more than a draw.

In that way, Sunday’s result served as a reminder of how far they have to go. With both teams missing world class strikers, Paris Saint-Germain had a slew of alternatives. Monaco started Riveire and Valere Germain. While PSG claimed an early league and were able to preserve a draw, Monaco needed an own goal to claim a point for the team they’re trying to track down.

Of course, it was always too much to expect Monaco to rival PSG in year one of their first division return, but with so many on the periphery of French soccer seeing Monaco the league’s PSG counterpoint, Sunday was a reminder that we’re at least one year away from PSG’s real challenge.

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