PARIS (AP) — The last thing Paris Saint-Germain’s shaky defense needs right now is to face a highly skilled player with a major point to prove against his former club, and a great scoring record at its stadium.
But that’s what PSG will have to prepare for when Bordeaux winger Hatem Ben Arfa comes to Parc des Princes on Saturday night, brimming with confidence after scoring a fine winner for his new club last weekend.
Controlling the ball on the edge of the area, Ben Arfa skipped past two Rennes players and drilled the ball into the bottom corner for a 1-0 win.
It was precisely the kind of goal PSG fans wanted to see — again and again — when Ben Arfa secured a dream move to his hometown club four years ago, after netting 18 goals for Nice in a hugely impressive season that saw him return to the France team.
The move quickly turned sour for Ben Arfa.
He fell so out of favor with then-coach Unai Emery that he was exiled from the squad in April 2017, and spent the entire next season without playing a game for PSG. It was the ultimate humiliation for Ben Arfa, once considered the brightest prospect in French soccer when he broke into the Lyon team as a gifted 17-year-old in 2004.
Now, the 33-year-old is playing in the ninth club of his hectic stop-start career, but tranquil Bordeaux seems a good fit — for now — and he could be facing PSG at just the right time.
PSG lost 3-2 at Monaco last Friday despite leading 2-0, and was lucky to scrape a 1-0 home win against Leipzig in the Champions League on Tuesday night. That win was achieved through a combination of excellent goalkeeping from the ever-reliable Keylor Navas, allied to some sloppy finishing from a German side lacking a clinical center forward to punish PSG’s many errors.
Although defending champion PSG leads the league, it is only two points ahead of Lille, and has already lost three times in 11 games and five in 15 overall this season.
This falls far below expectations at a cash-rich club bankrolled by Qatari investors, whose ambitions of dominating European soccer have fallen way short.
The pressure seems to be getting both to the players and coach Thomas Tuchel.
There have been careless red cards, confusing tactics — PSG’s players appeared unsure what to do against Leipzig at times as they consulted Tuchel during the game — and finally an outburst from Tuchel himself.
He took exception to a reporter’s question after the Leipzig game when asked if there was a lot of nervousness in his team at the moment.
“I get the impression you’re always asking the same thing and it’s always the same questions. You can go and ask this question in the dressing room, if you have the balls to do that,” an irate Tuchel said, raising his voice as he got angrier and readjusting his face mask as it kept slipping. “The players gave everything, everything.”
Tuchel’s response merely mirrored the way his team is currently playing on the field, without much composure and seemingly under constant stress.
The timing could be just right for Ben Arfa to help push midtable Bordeaux up the standings.
Especially as in four matches playing for the opposition at Parc des Princes, he has netted four times — twice with Lyon and once each with Marseille and Nice.
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