Suddenly Paris Saint-Germain’s home debut at Parc des Princes on Sunday to face old enemy Marseille is looking as likely to turn into a car crash as a triumphal parade.
Less than three weeks after playing their first Champions League final, Paris Saint-Germain returned to Ligue 1 with a thud on Thursday as a team severely depleted by coronavirus lost at promoted Lens.
Both games ended in 1-0 defeats, but that is where the similarities end. PSG went toe-to-toe with Bayern in Lisbon. In Lens, the French champions enjoyed almost three quarters of possession but managed only one shot on target while the home team threatened on almost every attack. PSG only fielded four of the same starters in the two games. Against Lens, coach Thomas Tuchel gave league debuts to 18-year-olds Arnaud Kalimuendo and Kays Ruiz.
“We were playing together for the first time. It takes time, otherwise football would be simple and easy,” said Italian international midfielder Marco Verratti.
Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and Angel di Maria, who between them scored two thirds of PSG’s league goals last season, were all absent after testing positive for Covid-19. So was key central defender Marquinhos. Tuchel complained that the absence of the attacking “Fantastic Four” meant Ruiz and veteran Ander Herrera had to play attacking roles that do not suit them.
“It was necessary for them to create things and that’s not their strength,” Tuchel said.
He could not say “exactly” whether any of the absent stars will be able to play on Sunday but added that they have been missing training.
“If they’re there, OK, but they’ll be in a physical condition where I can’t expect them to be decisive. I’m not worried, but realistic,” Tuchel said. “If we have to play with the same team against Marseille, we’ll do it.”
The only expected change is number two goalkeeper Sergio Rico, in place of 20-year-old Pole Marcin Bulka, who presented Lens with their goal on Thursday by attempting to pass to Verratti. Verratti, returning from a calf injury that forced him to watch most of the Champions League final rounds from the bench, played the whole match against Lens.
“Normally, the maximum for him should have been to play 60 or 70 minutes,” Tuchel said. “We took a risk”.
The French league season kicked off on August 21, two days before the Champions League final. Even though it has made a slow start with PSG and European semi-finalists Lyon absent, games postponed because of the coronavirus and an international break, PSG are already six points behind leaders Nice after Patrick Vieira’s side won their first two games.
PSG finished 12 points ahead of Marseille with a game in hand when last season was brought to an early halt by the pandemic and have won the league three straight years. PSG face a frenzied scheduled, hosting Metz next Wednesday before travelling to pacesetters Nice the following Sunday.
Other than turning Icardi’s loan into a permanent move and signing Rico, normally free-spending PSG have been quiet this summer, though Tuchel said he hoped veteran full-back Alessandro Florenzi would arrive from Roma over the weekend.