They may be favourites, but PSG haven’t knocked Monaco out of title race yet


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Despite Claudio Ranieri's claims to the contrary, Monaco are not out of the running for the French title after coming from behind to hold leaders Paris Saint-Germain to a 1-1 draw in an absorbing top-of-the-table showdown at the Stade Louis II on Sunday night.

In the days leading up to the meeting of two of Europe’s financial powerhouses, Monaco coach Ranieri had dismissed the game as little more than a friendly match.

His team, said the Italian, stood little chance against the "extraterrestrials" from Paris who "could win this game even with their second team".

Few seriously believed what the wily 62-year-old had to say. And if it was an attempt to deflect any pressure away from his side, the reality was that second-placed Monaco came into the weekend five points adrift of PSG.

The pressure on the men from the principality was evident. Champions League qualification may have been their stated aim for the season, but win this game and suddenly they would be just two points off the pace. Lose, and the gap to the top would surely be too big.

PSG had only ever won three times there in 37 previous visits in the top flight. But these days they are a different proposition.

With Edinson Cavani injured, Javier Pastore started on the left of the attack. And the Argentine did not need long to make his presence felt, heading home at the back post following a corner in the eighth minute.

It was his first goal in Ligue 1 since April last year, although it wasn't enough for PSG to win the game. Instead, Monaco got the equaliser their efforts deserved when Thiago Silva deflected a Fabinho cross into his own net 16 minutes from time.

Both teams had chances to win the match in the closing stages, but the draw was a fair result. Five days after winning through to the League Cup final, PSG took another small step towards winning a domestic double.

There are nevertheless some reasons for Paris coach Laurent Blanc to be concerned, with the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen now just over a week away.

His team have struggled to produce their best form since a 5-0 trouncing of Nantes in the middle of last month. This was their second consecutive away league draw and the latest in a line of not entirely convincing performances.

For a team that has designs on reaching the last four in the Champions League, it is worthy of note that they have not beaten any of the other sides in the top four in Ligue 1 this season, drawing all of their meetings with Monaco, Lille and Saint-Etienne.

On Sunday, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not at his best, PSG’s share of possession was a relatively low 54 percent. Only once this season have they had less of the ball in a Ligue 1 game, and that was in their 2-1 win at Marseille in October when they played most of the match with ten men.

Indeed, the visitors might even have been rescued by Ranieri himself. Last weekend, just as he had done since the start of November, the former Chelsea boss started against Lorient with a diamond midfield.

But the loss of an early goal persuaded him to change things before the half-hour mark as he took off central midfielder Mounir Obbadi and brought on a winger in Lucas Ocampos.

That match finished 2-2, and so against PSG, the Tinkerman decided to start with the Argentine Ocampos and James Rodríguez on the wings in the 4-4-2 formation preferred in the opening weeks of the campaign.

But again Monaco found themselves behind early on and at half-time he changed things, withdrawing Ocampos and strengthening his midfield with the introduction of Geoffrey Kondogbia.

Dimitar Berbatov also came on in the second half for his debut as, for the second week running, Monaco ended up drawing a game they perhaps might have won had Ranieri not got his starting line-up all wrong.

And while they may not yet be out of the title race, they could have been very much in it had they emerged victorious.

"I don't regret not starting with the midfield diamond,” he said after seeing his side extend their unbeaten start to 2014.

“The most important thing is that the players adapt to the changes in system during a match.

"I hope for French football that PSG win the Champions League and that they leave us some points along the way."

Andrew Scott | Follow on Twitter

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