Paris Saint-Germain 2 – 2 Montpellier Hérault SC
Given the huge differences between the two sides’ profiles, playing staff and budgets and the single point that separated them in the table, Sunday’s clash was one of the most hyped confrontations in recent Ligue 1 history.
The Montpellier President, garbage magnate Louis Nicollin (the absolute antithesis of PSG’s new Qatari owners), decided before flying north to return home to watch the match on TV at home and he wouldn’t have been disappointed by what he saw from his side.
From the start the visitors, who were playing in Ligue 2 just three seasons ago, had the better of the run of play and inside ten minutes they made PSG goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu earn his crust. Younes Balhanda was instrumental as he fed John Utaka on the left, the Nigerian forced Sirigu into one save and the Italian then had to be at his best once again to deny Ligue 1 top scorer Olivier Giroud with a second block (9′).
If ever they needed reminding that told PSG and the Parc des Princes crowd that Montpellier weren’t in the capital on a sightseeing trip. The hosts, meanwhile, were slow out of the blocks and it took them until midway through the first half to create a decent chance but Kevin Gameiro’s effort never really troubled Geoffrey Jourdren (23′).
With Gameiro, Nene and Jérémy Ménez (not to mention Javier Pastore, who started on the bench) PSG have one of the most vaunted attacks in France so it was a trifle surprising that it was a defender who scored first.
New centre-back Alex took advantage of a quick piece of thinking from Nene to open his scoring account with a fierce drive (42′). It was just the Brazilian’s second game since joining PSG from Chelsea and being reunited with former boss Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian himself, though, would admit that it was perhaps more than the hosts deserved after an indifferent first half.
Montpellier refused to be cowed and hit back in stoppage time. Alex’s Brazilian compatriot Hilton was the provider with a superb cushioned header, which was matched only by Belhanda’s finish as he notched up his seventh goal of the season (45′ + 1′).
For the most part the second half followed the pattern of the first; PSG had more of the ball but did less with it. Their best chance after half time again fell to a Brazilian defender when Maxwell found himself with room to shoot, after a kind bounce of the ball, but Jourdren was never going to be beaten from what was a tight angle (53′).
Giroud: The Provider
Pre-match a lot of the talk had been around the goal-scoring prowess of Giroud and rightly so given his tally of 16 so far this season. But the rangy forward is also creative and he picked out Utaka allowing the former Rennes man to bury his header past Sirigu and give Montpellier the advantage and Giroud his seventh assist of the season (83′).
In the first half there were only five minutes between the two goals and bizarrely that sequence was repeated in the second. Just as the travelling fans were starting to think about celebrating their win and a new position at the top of the table Hoarau (on for Gameiro) had the ball in the back of the net after a brilliant mazy run from Ménez (88′).
With the home fans now celebrating a remarkable ‘get out of jail’ it finished 2-2 and PSG came away with the point that sees them stay top of the table a point clear of Montpellier but you get the feeling that the title race has many more twists and turns to take before the end of May.