The most anticipated Ligue 1 match this weekend features a trip to Paris Saint-Germain for AS Saint-Etienne.
With PSG currently sitting in the top spot, fifth-place, Saint-Etienne will be looking to gain ground and solidify their standing near the top of the table.
Both teams enter the match near the top in goals scored, and PSG and ASSE are one and two, respectively, in fewest goals allowed. The teams are also the top two in goal differential.
With the offensive firepower both teams boast, this game could be a high-scoring affair. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been everything expected and more, netting ten goals so far this season. The energetic Jeremy Menez and the ultra-talented Javier Pastore, among others, round out a talented group of PSG attackers.
Saint-Etienne boasts one of the most underrated attacks in Europe. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is proving last season’s numbers were no fluke. The offseason additions of Romain Hamouma, and Renaud Cohade have been paying early dividends. The late addition of former Marseille striker Brandao has given the ASSE attack more firepower and experience.
While both squads have excellent attacking options, the defenses should not be overlooked. Sirigu and Ruffier are both reliable custodians. The rest of the defensive troops have not allowed a lot of opportunities to opposing sides.
For Saint-Etienne, the keys to the game will be limiting Ibrahimovic’s touches around the 18-yard box. If they can make Ibra move more into the midfield to receive the ball and keep him marked tightly on set pieces, they can hope to limit his effectiveness.
Midfield pressure will also be key to try and slow down PSG and force turnovers closer to the Saint-Etienne attacking third. ASSE cannot lay off and allow the PSG midfielders to find their attacking feet.
On the offensive side, Saint-Etienne needs to use width in their attack. They must try and spread out the PSG midfield to open up channels for Hamouma and Aubameyang to have space for their runs.
If PSG compacts towards the middle to prevent the runs, then ASSE will need to be on target with crosses and look to Brandao to try and open the defense.
For PSG, their defense needs to keep Aubameyang in front of them. If PSG tries to play him even, his speed will beat them. In this regard, Silva or Sakho are better-suited to mark Aubameyang, and then Alex.
PSG will also need to keep close tabs on Hamouda. Hamouda has been a creative element for ASSE to this point. If he is allowed too much space, he will pick apart PSG with his passes and runs. Closing him out is the other key assignment for the PSG defense.
In attack, PSG need to keep pressure on the Saint-Etienne back four. While ASSE has been good this season at the back, they have had trouble clearing their defensive third at times, resulting in premium opportunities. PSG also needs to move Ibra around more to create some confusion in the marking responsibilities. This could create some openings for them.
In the end, this should be a hotly contested match. PSG is coming off a midweek victory over heated rivals Marseille. They have had one less day of rest then ASSE, who dropped Sochaux on Tuesday. If PSG avoids a post L’OM letdown, getting points on foreign turf will be hard for SE to come by.
Despite PSG’s superior talent, do not be surprised if Saint-Etienne are able to pull out a draw.