If only the French had a snappy phrase for ‘newly rich’. Although the French league continues to receive scant recognition in the British press, Paris Saint Germain has perhaps been the continental club most frequently mentioned by our nation’s sportswriters in the past few months. Not a day passes without the Parisians being linked to yet another wantaway Premier League star, with the immense wealth of the club’s Qatari owners firing the imaginations of agents and journalists alike.
The investment brought into the capital city by the Qatari Investment Authority has been translated into progress on the field, with PSG enjoying a three point cushion at the summit of Ligue Un. Expensive summer signings such as Javier Pastore and Kevin Gameiro have gelled quickly, alongside talented academy products such as Mamadou Sakho. January has brought further additions, with Carlo Ancelotti able to tempt former Chelsea defender Alex and Brazilian-born Italy international Thiago Motta to France, at a combined cost of around twenty million euros. Perhaps more importantly in terms of revenue, Ancelotti’s side have established a ten point advantage over fourth-placed rivals Olympique Lyonnais, meaning qualification to the Champions League seems all but certain.
The Parisians’ quest for a first league title since the 1993-1994 season, however, may hinge on their home fixture with second-placed Montpellier, scheduled for 19 February. Rene Girard’s team have been the league’s surprise package this season, and will head to the Parc des Princes as the division’s highest scorers. The southern outfit’s startling title challenge has been spearheaded by the forward play of Olivier Giroud, who already has fifteen league goals to his name. The powerful forward, who has attracted interested from Newcastle United and Arsenal of late, has also been rewarded for his fine form with a debut for Laurent Blanc’s new-look national team. While Giroud’s incisive finishing has taken many of the plaudits, Montpellier’s squad is built upon hard work rather than raw talent, with Cameroonian full-back Henri Bedimo exemplifying the team’s energetic style. Joris Marveaux, brother of Newcastle’s Sylvain, meanwhile, adds class and composure to the midfield.
With the traditional powerhouses of Lyon and Marseille slugging it out for fourth place, the only other realistic title challenger is Lille, the reigning champions. Rudi Garcia’s men started this season slowly, possibly reeling from the departure of the influential Yohan Cabaye, but have been boosted by the fine form of Eden Hazard and Joe Cole. Former PSG goalkeeper Mickael Landreau, meanwhile, has continued his renaissance between the posts. The club’s decision to sell prolific striker Moussa Sow to Fenerbahce in the January, however, may prove costly at the end of the season.
With Les Dogues waiting in the wings, both PSG and Montpellier will be relishing the chance to register a knockout blow when they meet at the Parc de Princes, with the home side’s recent acquisitions consolidating their position as pre-match favourites. However, Girard’s unfancied, inexpensive squad will venture north without fear, in search of a historic win. Just don’t expect to hear about it in Britain if they pull it off.