On a weekend when Lyon, Lille and Monaco all stumbled, PSG beat Nice 2-1 at the Parc des Princes to go just one point behind league leaders Lille. It was hardly a convincing display, especially with Barcelona looming on Tuesday, but PSG had a raft of key players missing and will take heart the fact they broke down a fairly resolute Nice side.
Nice’s two young loanees, William Saliba and Jean-Clair Todibo, were again impressive in central defence – and the game could have gone in a different direction had Amine Gouiri hit the net rather than the crossbar on the hour mark – but some strong play from Moise Kean and Mauro Icardi in attack, along with a return for Keylor Navas in goal, gave PSG the three points and a welcome boost before their trip to Camp Nou in midweek.
Mauricio Pochettino used this match as a tactical sandbox before Tuesday. The jury is still out on the long-term effectiveness of playing a 4-2-3-1 but, even with Neymar, Ángel Di María and Marco Verratti all missing, PSG had a good balance between solidity and creativity in midfield. They threatened in attack but Kylian Mbappé’s ineffectiveness is concerning given that Neymar and Ángel Di María are missing through injury. Deprived of the creative impetus that the two South Americans provide, Mbappé seemed a little lost. He was nowhere near as incisive or clinical as he had been in PSG’s 2-0 win over last Marseille last Sunday.
The performance of Leandro Paredes was more positive. From the opening kick, the ball was played back to the defence and Presnel Kimpembe, himself a fine passer, squared the ball for Paredes, who sent a lovely raking pass up the wing to Mbappé, who cut inside Andy Pelmard and crossed the ball to Icardi. It was the first promising opportunity of the match. PSG did not score, but the move offered a timely reminder of Paredes’ vision and his ability to anchor the midfield, cycling through possession while allowing PSG to pick their best moments to attack.
It would be a bit of an understatement to say that Paredes has had an uneven career in Paris, but he seems to be becoming the club’s key midfielder. His consistency is finally equalling his talent. PSG signed him from Zenit St Petersburg for €40m in January 2019 and he was a regular starter when he arrived at the club. However, Idrissa Gueye joined that summer and Paredes often found himself on the bench. Since football’s restart, though, he has grown in stature, fending off the challenge of Danilo Pereira for his spot in midfield by showing an impressive level of adaptability, something that made him invaluable to Thomas Tuchel. Paredes has maintained that run under Pochettino, starting in each of the side’s last half-dozen league matches. He is showing more freedom and imagination in his game and, as he expresses himself more, he reveals more of his gifts.
When Paredes arrived at PSG, he was made out to be the long-awaited replacement for Thiago Motta, a gritty, no-nonsense defensive midfielder who liked to get stuck in. This proved to be a severe casting error, though. Even though he played a deep-lying role in midfield, he was at his best when linking attack with defence – as he has done more regularly under Pochettino. Paredes can fulfil both midfield roles comfortably, whether in the current 4-2-3-1 formation, a more open 4-4-2 or even playing in front of a three-man defence.
He is not quick, but that hardly matters while he is playing alongside the terrier-like Gueye and in front of the relatively mobile centre-back partnership of Marquinhos and Kimpembe. Having emerged in Argentina as a playmaker, his best quality is undoubtedly his range of passing. He exhibited as much against Nice at the weekend. He created a good chance for Mbappé with a delicious chipped ball later in the first half, which the striker should have done better with. Not everything Paredes tried came off, but his willingness to spread the play and simply try things could be the difference on Tuesday.
• Even though Nice lost to PSG on Saturday, they deserve credit for how they played. Europe may not be beckoning just yet, but they have been looking far more cohesive of late, with Sevilla loanee Rony Lopes playing his part. The Portuguese midfielder scored 17 goals for Monaco in the 2017-18 season but struggled in Spain last season. He has been increasingly comfortable since returning from injury last month, scoring on Saturday after hitting a brace in midweek. Given Kasper Dolberg’s struggles with fitness and Gouiri’s struggles with form, Nice need a consistent goalscorer. If Lopes can fill that gap, Nice’s season may not be the lost cause it had once seemed.
• Monaco’s winning run is over after their 2-2 draw with Lorient, who deserve full credit and will be gutted to have dropped two points at the death. Christophe Pelissier’s side have been thriving since making a switch to a 4-5-1, with three wins and three draws in their last six matches in all competitions. A win against Monaco on Sunday would have gone some distance towards assuaging their relegation woes. Lille should be wary of Les Merlus come Sunday, with the team looking far more like Pelissier’s finest Amiens sides than the disorderly bunch they were earlier in the season.
• Finally, a word for Montpellier, who ground out a gritty and deserved victory over Lyon on Saturday evening despite losing Andy Delort at the interval. It was their third win in a row after going nine games without a victory. With Téji Savanier in particular impressing and the club’s European rivals all stumbling this weekend, Michel der Zakarian’s side are right back in the mix, sitting just two points behind Lens in sixth and three off Rennes in fifth.