In a highly anticipated clash at the Parc des Princes, two suitors to the crown met to round out week 17 in Ligue 1. This matchup between first place Nice and third place PSG proved to be as exciting as it was intriguing, finishing in a 2-2 draw. Though each side may be happy to leave with a single point upon reflection, both are no doubt wary as second place Monaco continued gaining traction on the way to the top.
PSG were happy to retreat home, tail between legs, from their surprise 3-0 defeat at Montpellier in the week before. Surely eager to placate their upset fans, the club did not get off to the start they were looking for. After a foul from Thiago Motta, Wylan Cyprien stepped up to the 27-yard spot slightly to the right of center. With a delicate touch, he curled in the ball just over the wall and into the top right corner past a leaping Alphonse Areola.
In response, PSG sustained multiple attacks at the other end, but failed to capitalize on them with Edinson Cavani misfiring on at least two scoring chances, the second mishit being notably comical. The phrase “all roads lead to Rome” originated in medieval times, in reference to the ambulatory infrastructure of ancient Rome, including the Milliarium Aureum, or “Golden Milestone,” from which all roads sprouted and were measured from. In modern PSG, it could be said that all roads lead through Edinson Cavani, the focal point of all of PSG’s attacks, for better or for worse.
In the 3rd minute of extra time in the first half, Dalbert struck a pinpoint long ball from the left side to Alassane Pléa who was rushing down the middle toward the 18-yard box. With two PSG defenders tracking back and misreading the ball at the last second, it was rather comical seeing the ball bounce off of Pléa’s torso right into his own path, with the forward seemingly caught off guard himself by his opponents’ misadventures. After lining up his shot, Pléa then struck a bouncer just over the sliding defenders and past Areola. Was it a mishit or was it on purpose? Regardless, Nice were 2-0 up at the whistle.
PSG manager Unai Emery must have delivered a rousing speech at halftime, perhaps reminding his team that they are PSG and that Nice are Nice, as his team swiftly responded to salvage their two-goal deficit. In the 46th minute, defensive winger Serge Aurier sprinted into the right side of the penalty area to reach a perfectly placed through ball from Marco Verratti. Cavani, whose swift maneuvering also left his defender behind, merely had to tap in Aurier’s perfectly placed one-touch cross.
On the hour mark, a dangerous cross from Aurier’s counterpart on the left side, Layvin Kurzawa, caused chaos at the back for Nice. Goalkeeper Yoan Cardinale, who appeared to be caught in a decision between punch or parry, diverted the ball right into the chest of his defender Dante. The rebound fell in front of the empty net for an oncoming Cavani to notch another easy tap-in goal, the final goal of the match.
Though PSG dominated most aspects of the game, e.g. having 60% of possession, 22 shots vs. Nice’s 5, and 9 corners vs. Nice’s 0 (!), Nice rose to the challenge to earn this draw against their much flashier and more prestigious opponent. Though they surely feel regret over giving up their lead, Nice may have been happy to take a draw before the match had begun, especially considering PSG’s home advantage.
This draw should suffice to prove that Nice can run with the big dogs. Besides benefitting the club’s own self-esteem, fans of Ligue 1 must now be excited that Nice have shown the ability to stay on par with PSG and Monaco. Nice defeated the latter by a resounding 4-0 earlier in the year, which many may have thought to have been a fluke. Fortunately, Ligue 1 is truly shaping up to be a three horse race, with Monaco and PSG both within four points of league leaders Nice.