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It took nine rounds, but PSG is first in France


Paris Saint-Germain’s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts during the French L1 football match Paris PSG vs Reims, on October 20, 2012 at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

At the end of France’s ninth round, Paris Saint-Germain has claimed first place in Ligue 1. Three draws to open the season had kept the free-spending Parisians out of the Championnat’s penthouse, but with five wins in their last six, Carlo Ancelotti’s cirque des étoiles have the league’s best defense, its second-best attack, and (most importantly) the most points.

They share the last distinction with Marseille, whose loss at recently-promoted, previously-winless Troyes hints l’OM’s hot start was nothing more than a phase. They’re still on 19 points, but winless in three after a perfect start, Marseille’s looking more like the team we thought they were: Decent, but not contenders. It will be a few more weeks before we know for sure.

In the interim, PSG’s survived a week that should have primed them for an upset. Their international-laden roster had to re-form after the break, and they have Champions League commitments mid-week. But thanks to a little luck from the fixture list, Paris Saint-Germain didn’t have a major challenge on Saturday. Reims may be impressing in their return to the top-flight (tied for fourth coming into the match), but three points at the Parc de Princes is a bit much for any French side, let alone a drastically out-gunned one. It took Kevin Gameiro 65 minutes to put the hosts in front, but once he did, PSG’s defense meant they were home.

Given the defense was the biggest preseason question mark surrounding the team, PSG’s early stinginess is a terrible sign for the rest of Ligue 1. While PSG had bought one of the world’s best defenders (Thiago Silva, previously with Milan), conventional wisdom says defenses take time to gel, yet even before Silva joined the team and regained his fitness (initially struggling with a thigh injury), PSG kept four clean sheets in five games. For the season, the Parisians have six clean sheets, allowing only five goals in nine matches.

In truth, discussion of defensive vulnerabilities was always a bit of a stretch. Amid an envy-inducing collection of talent at other positions, the defense was seen as the weak link in an almost faultless chain. And how many times can you hear “oh, they’re too good” in the run-up to the season before you tune out? If Alex, Maxwell, and Gregory van der Wiel are relative concerns along the back, they’re not so suspect that strong play from Silva, a robust midfield of Thiago Silva (currently old) and Blaise Matuidi, and the goalkeeping of Salvatore Sirigu couldn’t overcome.

That’s the picture that’s coming together, even though injuries and international commitments have kept that plan from being fully implemented. On Saturday, only five of Ancelotti’s starting XI were in their ideal spots, yet PSG won by what’s becoming a typical PSG score. As a result, they’ve claimed the lead in Ligue 1.

Ligue 1 scores

Bordeaux 1-1 Lille

PSG 1-0 Reims

Nancy 1-1 Sochaux

Evian 0-4 Toulouse

Nice 1-1 Saint-Etienne

Rennes 2-1 Montpellier

Valenciennes 6-1 Lorient

Ajaccio 0-0 Bastia

Lyon 1-0 Brest

Troyes 1-0 Marseille