By Robin Bairner
Olympique Lyonnais used to be a team that riled Paris Saint-Germain. During the early part of the millennium, the side from the Rhone Valley goaded their capital rivals that they were a bigger club. On Sunday night, PSG emphatically proved that they are once again the benchmark for Ligue 1 sides.
Laurent Blanc’s men, who remain unbeaten in all competitions this season, cruised to a 4-0 victory over the side who used to monopolise the Championnat crown. PSG toyed with their opponents, encouraging the crowd to loudly chant ‘Ole!’ each time they completed a successful pass with only an hour played.
Such is the strength of this PSG vintage, Blanc did not even feel the need to risk Blaise Matuidi, the side’s engine, from the outset of the game. Instead, the more graceful Javier Pastore was deployed from the outset, indicative of the home side’s need for creativity to break down opponents who arrived at Parc des Princes with the intention of spending long periods on the back foot.
Forget that Lyon were hampered by the loss of Bafetimbi Gomis just before kick off because of injury; his presence would have been little more to a discomfort for the dominant home team. Aside from a moment when Alexandre Lacazette brilliantly turned Thiago Silva then beat Gregory van der Wiel before smashing a shot against the bar, the fallen champions were mute as an offensive threat.
After starting the match at a subdued pace, PSG’s performance built like a crescendo towards the interval, by which time they had established a decisive 2-0 lead. Lucas Moura’s corner was steered home deftly at the near post by Edinson Cavani, who would win the penalty that Zlatan Ibrahimovic nonchalantly chipped into the top corner of the net – the ultimate show of confidence from a man whose assurance presently encapsulates this PSG side.
Mirroring Ibrahimovic is Yoann Gourcuff, whose collapse in form encapsulates that of his Lyon side. Sure, he is capable of moments of brilliance, but too often his performances are mundane and he was replaced after 70 minutes of this encounter, in which he had been swamped by PSG’s dominant midfield. Gourcuff, it seems, is a symbol of greatness past – apt for a club who are struggling to compete at the top level amidst the expenditure being invested to build their new stadium.
Indeed, the second half was little more than a training exercise for PSG. Ahead of a midweek trip to Evian, Blanc’s men allowed their tempo to drop once more yet still added a third when Thiago Silva thumped home following another corner kick. Even at this pace, though, the home side were still thoroughly dominant.
Ibrahimovic juggled the ball cheekily in the centre of the field during a period of open play and, though Bakary Kone would soon forcefully come through the back of him to remind the Swede of the competitive nature of the game, it simply served to underline how relaxed the Parisian side could afford to be. With 10 minutes remaining he won and converted another penalty as the hosts seemingly scored at will.
Four points clear at the top of the Ligue 1 table, PSG are increasingly hot favourites to become the first team to reclaim the French title since an invincible Lyon won the last of their seven successive titles in 2008.
How things have changed in the intervening five years.