Like every year in the French Cup, this year was filled with excitement. There were the close games. There were the near-upsets. And in the end, there was Chambery, a CFA-2 team (5th Division) team that knocked off three Ligue 1 teams, making their way to the French Cup quarterfinals before they were knocked out by Angers.
But then it was down to two. Current Ligue 1 leaders Lille and defending cup holders Paris St. Germain will be facing off against each other at the Stade de France on Saturday night. But who will have the advantage going into this match? Besides the obvious “who has the best” questions, we will try to examine the match a little further and give you an idea of the mindsets of these two teams.
Goalkeeping – If you were to ask this question four years ago, Gregory Coupet would be the easy choice in goal. But it is 2011, and Mickael Landreau, who isn’t a spring chicken himself, has the upper hand. Granted, Coupet has looked decent for the Paris side over the last few matches, but so has Landreau, who stopped an amazing penalty kick against St. Etienne this past weekend. Therefore, while both keepers are getting up there in age, the 31-year old Landreau has the advantage over the 38-year old Coupet. Advantage: Lille.
Defending – Both teams have some great players when it comes to defending, which has been reflected in both teams showing amazing defensive matches this year. In addition, the defensive midfielders of Claude Makelele and Rio Mavuba are also amongst the best in the league. True, Makelele might be in his twilight years and not as powerful on the pitch compared to when he transformed the defensive midfield position to what it is today, but he still must be respected on the pitch. Mavuba continues to play stellar football, as well as the rest of the Lille team, I might add.
Therefore, who has the advantage?
The play of Adil Rami since the announcement of his move to Valencia has been so-so. While he does make some good defensive plays, he also looks as if he doesn’t “want to get dirty” and protects himself as a high-valued possession of his Spanish club instead of an all-star defender on his current (loan) club. As for PSG, the player to watch is Mamadou Sakho. Not only has Sakho shown his amazing defensive skills, but he has also shown his leadership quality as well. While Sakho might still be young, he is already one of the most mature players on the pitch. This might look like it gives PSG the advantage, but player-for-player, Lille still has the edge. In addition, Christophe Jallet will miss the match after his red-card in the PSG vs. Nancy game on Tuesday. Advantage: Lille.
Midfield play: Luckily for the fans, we have been blessed with two amazing midfields squaring off against one another. We already talked about the key defensive midfielders in Makelele and Mavuba, now lets talk about the rest of the midfield. Along with Makelele, PSG has a good mixture of offensive firepower as well at talent for the future. Even though he cooled off in the middle of the season, Nene’s play has been slightly improving in the closing weeks of the season. Also, while this is Nene’s first year at PSG, he did play in last year’s Cup final as a member of Monaco, giving him experience in this competition. In addition, youngster Clement Chantome continues to show promise. And with players like Jeremy Clement and Mathieu Bodmer available as well, this gives PSG a strong presence in the middle of the field.
This would usually sound like a slam dunk for PSG, but they are playing Lille. Along with Mavuba, you have Yohan Cabaye and Florent Balmont as well. Oh, and they have this kid named Eden Hazard that we understand isn’t shabby either. In addition, if any of these players aren’t up to snuff, Ludovic Obraniak is a formidable substitute. Therefore, not only does Lille have the better quality of players, they also have a decent backup plan as well. Advantage: Lille.
Offensive attack: Guillaume Hoarau is a solid option up front for PSG. Mevlut Erding, when healthy, is also another solid option in the striker position for PSG. In addition, Ludovic Giuly has had a “better than expected” year for the Paris club as well. But they are playing Lille which makes PSG’s decent strike force look rather weak. Les Dogues have Moussa Sow, the league’s leading scorer. They also have Gervinho, who has not only been able to find the net, but has been instrumental in distributing the ball as well. On the bench, they have Tulio De Melo and Pierre-Alain Frau, who still are strong options up front when playing with the midfield that they have. And speaking of midfields, if Rudi Garcia finds his team down early, he can push forward his midfielders and overload the PSG defense. While PSG has some good players up front, Lille has great players up front, and a support system as well to make it work. Advantage: Lille.
Coaching: This is where the advantages might not be as clear-cut. Rudi Garcia has been praised for making this team what it is. And since his time at Lille, he has done a great job at making them a force in Ligue 1. On the other side of the pitch, Antoine Kambouare has been criticized a number of times by the press and supporters. And while the Stephane Sessegnon situation was messy, this preview is about the play on the pitch, and not the off-field activities.
As far as Garcia goes, people expected Lille to be in the situation they are in. Most people predicted Lille to win the Ligue 1 title. Therefore, should Garcia get credit for something that was already predicted? As for Kambouare, no matter what PSG supporters say, he has already won the French Cup for PSG last year as well as bringing them to the French Cup final this year. In addition, he has PSG poised to possibly take the Champions League playoff spot from a slumping Lyon. Therefore, not unlike the situation in Marseille and the unfounded criticism of Didier Deschamps, Kambouare has shown that he can perform in pressure situations. Advantage: None.
Miscellaneous: This is where PSG is able to get a little respect.
For the last few years, both under Garcia and Claude Puel, people expected great things from Lille. But in the end, they would always disappoint. Year after year, they were considered possible contenders for a Champions League position. And, like last year, they always seem to find the big prizes slipping from their fingers. Therefore, performing in pressure situations and winning “the big ones” hasn’t been Lille’s strong point.
On the other hand, this is what PSG lives for. While they might disappoint in the Ligue 1 season, they always bring their best competition to the Cup competition. Usually when they concentrate on the Cup, their league play suffers. For example, in the 2007-2008 season, while winning the League Cup, PSG finished in 16th position in the Ligue 1 standings. But this year, PSG is doing well on all fronts, which should give them move confidence going into this French Cup final.
These type of situations are what PSG lives for. True, the draw against Nancy at home might put them down a little, but they still have the slight psychological advantage over Lille, who are even more pressured to win the French Cup and “do the double”. Advantage: PSG
Overall: From every position on the pitch, Lille has the advantage. If this were a regular Ligue 1 match, most people would pick Lille. But this is a Cup match. This is what Paris is good at. And even with all the advantages Lille has regarding players, the psychological aspect can take all of that edge away, especially when Lille is a team that usually performs poorly under pressure. Still, in this match, and after a big win against St. Etienne on the weekend, the players have the advantage.
Prediction: Lille 3 – PSG 2.
Filed under: French Cup News, LOSC Lille, Paris Saint Germain Tagged: | Adil Rami, Antoine Kombouare, Claude Makelele, Clément Chantôme, Eden Hazard, Florent Balmont, Gervinho, Gregory Coupet, Guillaume Hoarau, Jeremy Clement, Ludovic Giuly, Ludovic Obraniak, Mamadou Sakho, Mathieu Bodmer, Mevlut Erding, Mickael Landreau, Moussa Sow, Nene, Pierre-Alain Frau, Rio Mavuba, Rudi Garcia, Tulio De Melo, Yohan Cabaye