Paris Saint-Germain’s lustre has dulled in France’s Ligue 1

Snce August, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paris Saint-Germain have fallen to Earth. The Swedish superstar has suffered injuries and been out of the side. And PSG have not led the table for a single weekend in defence of their Ligue 1 title.
Forward Alexandre Lacazette is spearheading Lyon's attack with 17 goals at the season's mid-point. NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP
Forward Alexandre Lacazette is spearheading Lyon's attack with 17 goals at the season's mid-point. NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP

Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, a young striker of promise at Paris Saint-Germain, recently told a diverting story of how his season in French football’s Glamour Central began.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, his PSG colleague, asked him how he had got on, in terms of goals, during his previous campaign, loaned out at Valenciennes.

Two goals in 21 games, the 21 year old replied.

“Pah,” Ibrahimovic said. “Bahebeck: two goals, 21 games; Zlatan: two games, 21 goals!”

Last season’s top scorer in France, and swaggerer-in-chief at the country’s wealthiest and most ambitious club, is good at giving the impression he operates on another plane than those around him.

But since August, he and PSG have fallen to Earth. The Swedish superstar has suffered injuries and been out of the side. And PSG have not led the table for a single weekend in defence of their Ligue 1 title.

“We have total suspense. It’s a gripping championship,” said Frederic Thiriez, president of the league. “At the beginning of the season, everyone was predicting PSG would walk through the league.”

True, Ibrahimovic was far from the only Paris resident with an inflated view of his, and his team’s, superiority.

This has been the autumn when the previous grandees of France responded most assertively to the revolution brought into Ligue 1 by the 2011 takeover of PSG by Qatari investors. Neither of the two Olympiques – Marseille and Lyonnais – have anything like the resources now enjoyed by their mega-rival in the capital, but they have good, strong fan bases and some fire about them.

Marseille have been galvanised by the arrival of Marcelo Bielsa, the idiosyncratic Argentine coach and, if they can sustain their energy levels – something Bielsa has not always managed in club football – their top spot going into new year might just translate into an improbable toppling of PSG.

The champions remain a collection of gifted players apparently far more in thrall to the Uefa Champions League than their own domestic challenges, and too often they are less effective as a whole than the sum of their expensive parts ought to be.

Lyon are in the picture, too, and as buoyant as any team at the mid-term break. They moved into second in thrashing Bordeaux 5-0 away in their last Ligue 1 fixture of 2014, and have, in Alexandre Lacazette, the top scorer in the country.

His 17 strikes already present quite a target for the immodest Ibrahimovic, stuck on eight goals, to try to overhaul.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: December 24, 2014 04:00 AM

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