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Paris Saint-Germain are eight points clear at the top of the Ligue 1 table
Monaco are in good form as they target a top-three finish this season
This will be a tough game in the principality for Christophe Galtier’s side
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This will not be an easy game for the Ligue 1 leaders, but the fact it is a bigger match might actually work in their favor if it increases their focus.
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January was not a particularly good month for Paris Saint-Germain. Even before the tournament, there were fears about how the team’s three best players would perform immediately after World Cup 2022.
Kylian Mbappe (France), Neymar (Brazil), and Lionel Messi (Argentina) all headed to Qatar with the aim of leading their respective countries to glory. It was inevitable that at least two of them would return to Paris disappointed.
In the end, it was Mbappe and Neymar who fell short, while Argentina’s victory gave Messi a feeling of fulfillment that meant he was not exactly itching to take on the likes of Angers, Rennes, and Reims in the European winter.
PSG are a team defined by their front three - and that has been part of the problem in recent years. But there were other issues that affected them in January, with Christophe Galtier coming in for criticism over his coaching. PSG won only one of their four Ligue 1 games in the first month of the year, culminating in their lead at the top of the table being trimmed to three points.
A week and a half later and the standings look more favorable again. PSG won back-to-back matches at the beginning of February, beating Montpellier 3-1 and Toulouse 2-1. Marseille, Lens, and Rennes have all stuttered of late, so Galtier’s side now have an eight-point advantage in the first place.
The Champions League remains the holy grail for PSG, who are still waiting to be crowned European champions for the first time ever. But Galtier must ensure his team remains fully focused on the Ligue 1 title race for now.
A convincing win here would actually help PSG heading into their last-16 tie against Bayern Munich, the first leg of which will be held at the Parc des Princes on Valentine’s Day. A defeat, conversely, would count as poor preparation, as well as boosting their domestic rivals.
Unlike the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, and the Bundesliga, all of which have four Champions League qualification spots available, Ligue 1 has just three. That could change - the number of places ultimately depends on how well each country’s teams perform in continental competition - but for now, a number of sides are essentially chasing two spots behind PSG.
With 14 rounds of fixtures remaining, there is still time for someone to make a late run for the top three. Right now, though, the contenders seem to be Marseille, Lens, Monaco, and Rennes.
Monaco sit fourth in the standings heading into the weekend, but they have some momentum behind them and are now just two points behind Lens in third.
Philippe Clement’s charges have won five and drawn two of their seven league games since the World Cup. Monaco have generally been excellent since a poor start to the campaign. From the beginning of September onwards, only PSG have collected more points than the club from the principality.
Monaco have long had one of the most productive academies in European soccer, and they are once again leaning on youth this term. “During the [January transfer] window, we made the choice to give the chance to our young players from the academy, rather than recruit again,” Clement confirmed recently.
Monaco will hope their bet on young players pays off as they seek to qualify for the Champions League with a third top-three finish on the bounce.
This will not be an easy game for PSG. They lost 3-0 at the Stade Louis II last season and also lost at Monaco’s home ground in 2020/21, so they cannot take anything for granted this weekend.
Clement’s side have scored 48 goals this term, which ranks them second only to their upcoming opponents. This is a team that strives to play on the front foot wherever possible, so PSG should not expect a pliant opponent that simply sits back and hopes for the best.
Ultimately, though, Galtier’s team is packed full of talent and that should make the difference as long as PSG are fully focused. There will be a temptation to look ahead to the upcoming visit of Bayern Munich to the Parc des Princes, but Galtier will do all he can to ensure his players are not thinking about anything other than this game against Monaco.
The fact PSG are facing one of Ligue 1’s best teams this weekend might actually help them to concentrate on the task at hand.
If they play to their potential, the champions should come out on top against a Monaco team that has already lost three games at home this term. Back an away win on Saturday.
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Teams: Monaco vs PSG
Location: Stade Louis II, Monaco, France
Time: Saturday 11 February 2023, 11 AM EST
How to Watch: beIN Sports
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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