Preview: Montpellier HSC vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Following yet another setback in their quest for further Ligue 1 glory, Paris Saint-Germain will aim to get off to a better start in February when they travel to the Stade de la Mosson for a meeting with Montpellier HSC on Wednesday.
The reigning champions were held to a 1-1 draw by Reims at the weekend, while their hosts ran out 2-0 victors against Auxerre.
With the suspended pair of Elye Wahi and Wahbi Khazri watching on from the naughty step, ex-Arsenal product Stephy Mavididi picked an ideal time to finally score his first and second goals of the Ligue 1 season during a worthwhile trip to Auxerre.
Mavididi cut inside before firing a rocket into the roof of the net just after the hour mark, and the former England youth international doubled his tally with a delicate chip in the 80th minute before the impenetrable Benjamin Lecomte kept out a stoppage-time penalty from Birama Toure.
Having ended a miserable four-game losing run in all tournaments stretching back to December, Romain Pitau’s side occupy 14th place in the table and hold a healthy five-point buffer over the four sides in the relegation zone, but they are far from assured of their place in the top division.
An early Coupe de France exit to Pau has at least allowed La Paillade to focus solely on their Ligue 1 fortunes, but as one of only four teams to have shipped over 40 goals in the division so far – the others being Troyes, Auxerre and Angers – failure to tighten up at the back will spell danger for Pitau’s men.
Montpellier have also taken just one point from their last five home games during a woeful period at the Stade de la Mosson – keeping just one clean sheet on familiar territory all season against Ajaccio – but there is arguably no better time to face a wounded PSG.
While few expected Reims’ stellar unbeaten run under William Still to continue at the home of the holders, the 30-year-old ripped up the script to come away from the Parc des Princes with a draw after Les Parisiens were reduced to 10 men.
Neymar’s dancing feet allowed the Brazilian to break the deadlock with 51 minutes played, but after midfield lynchpin Marco Verratti saw red just before the hour mark, Reims dug deep and found a leveller six minutes into second-half injury time through Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun.
Having dropped points in three of their last four Ligue 1 affairs, PSG are in wholly unfamiliar territory at the top of the Ligue 1 standings, but Christophe Galtier’s side still hold a three-point advantage over Lens after the second-placed Sang et Or could also only draw 1-1 against Troyes.
Putting seven past Pays de Cassel in the Coupe de France would have ostensibly been ideal preparation for the return of Ligue 1, but PSG undoubtedly have a title fight on their hands this season, and they are now at risk of suffering three successive league defeats away from home for the first time since March.
However, PSG will certainly take encouragement from their 5-2 thumping of Montpellier back in August, which represented their eighth successive win over La Paillade in all tournaments, and the champions have scored at least twice in each of their last 11 meetings with the underdog hosts.
Montpellier HSC Ligue 1 form:
Paris Saint-Germain Ligue 1 form:
Paris Saint-Germain form (all competitions):
We say: Montpellier HSC 1-2 Paris Saint-Germain
Fixtures with Montpellier have often been a walk in the park for PSG, but Galtier’s side are enduring the true definition of a sticky patch, and the fervent Paillade faithful will be in a buoyant mood after their team’s successful weekend exploits.
A rejuvenated Mavididi also spells danger for a Verratti and Neymar-less PSG, but Galtier will be demanding an immediate response from his players and should get one against a leaky Montpellier side, although it may not be pretty.