PSG braced for tough test at 4th-place St. Etienne
PARIS (AP) -The spotlight will be on the French league's two best strikers when leader Paris Saint-Germain travels to play fourth-place Saint-Etienne on Sunday.
Saint-Etienne won at PSG and knocked it out of the League Cup, and will be in confident mood with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in top form after nine goals in his past eight games - a streak even PSG top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic has not managed this season.
Aubameyang and Ibrahimovic are different forwards.
Aubameyang's lightning pace and slick movement contrasts with Ibrahimovic's more muscular approach and ability to improvise from almost anywhere. They have managed a combined 40 league goals so far - 24 for Ibrahimovic and 16 for Aubameyang - and the hopes of their teams rest largely with them.
Improving Saint-Etienne has not lost this year but is nine points behind PSG.
"It will be a very hard game for us, but we will hang in there,'' Aubameyang said. "PSG has the best squad in the league, made up of great players.''
They are also different players in terms of how their fans appreciate them.
Aubameyang is hugely popular, even helping out with a shovel to clear snow off the field in one game, and chatting regularly on first-name terms with spectators at training.
Ibrahimovic is an aloof figure, and the closest he has got to a training-ground chat was warning a club steward in strong terms not to touch his car when he had parked it in the wrong place.
After Saturday's scrappy 2-1 win against Nancy, Ibrahimovic spoke of his annoyance with PSG fans who recently jeered him against Marseille.
"They demand a lot, which is strange (given) what they had before. Because before they had nothing,'' Ibrahimovic said.
PSG has not won the league since 1994 and is four points clear of Lyon with 10 games to go - mainly thanks to his goals.
Ibrahimovic has always been outspoken, berating former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi live on television and clashing with former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. His acerbic comment has prompted speculation in the French media that there is a growing conflict between Ibrahimovic and a section of the Parc des Princes crowd.
"Zlatan's disappointed about being booed, but everyone's been booed in this stadium, even me,'' former PSG midfielder and coach Luis Fernandez said. "The fans pay to be entertained and they are probably expecting a bit more.''
What more they expect is hard to fathom.
He has carried the team single-handedly at times, such as on Saturday when his two second-half goals secured a vital win.
Fernandez, who twice managed the club, said Ibrahimovic's attitude does not help. He strolls around in games and often yells at teammates, or throws his arms up in the air if he doesn't get the right passes.
"He needs to have a bit of humility, of respect,'' Fernandez, who led PSG to the now defunct European Cup Winners' Cup in 1996, said on RMC radio. "The most important thing is to respect the history of the club.''
But last season, before Ibrahimovic arrived, PSG blew a three-point lead at the winter break and lost the title to Montpellier. It is hard to see how PSG would be in contention now without him, given that the club's next highest scorer is Kevin Gameiro with five league goals.
Aubameyang's strike partner, Brazilian forward Brandao, has five in his past four games.
The pressure will be on PSG following some unconvincing recent performances - including losses at Sochaux and Reims.
Lyon, which drew 0-0 against third-place Marseille last weekend, is at Bastia on Saturday.
Lyon coach Remi Garde has only the league to focus on, but PSG still has to play in the Champions League and French Cup quarterfinals and fatigue may yet catch up with PSG.
"Their end of season will be busy,'' Garde said. "We're a bit behind at the moment, but no way have we given up hope of catching them.''
Marseille, which is two points ahead of Saint-Etienne, hosts Ajaccio on Friday.
Also Saturday, it's: Lille vs. Evian; Lorient vs. Brest; Montpellier vs. Troyes; Reims vs. Rennes; and Sochaux vs. Valenciennes.
Nancy faces Nice and Toulouse faces Bordeaux in Sunday's other games.