French champions Paris Saint-Germain travel to Montpellier to get their Ligue 1 title defence underway on Friday. The clash at the Stade de la Mosson kicks off the 2013/14 season after last weekend’s curtain raiser, the Trophee des Champions, in Gabon.
Laurent Blanc is set to make his Championnat debut as PSG coach against the team that raised him and helped to launch his career, having already faced former side Bordeaux in Africa. The biggest question surrounding the match is whether this summer’s star signing Edinson Cavani will play or not.
Having only just started training with his new teammates in a group for the first time this week, it would appear unlikely that he will be able to play a full 90 minutes. However, Blanc has made no bones about the fact that the prolific Uruguayan will play if considered fit enough on match day.
Assuming that he is, the first change from the PSG side that beat Les Girondins last weekend will almost certainly be that he replaces former Napoli teammate Ezequiel Lavezzi up front.
The Argentine was a whirling dervish in the Trophee des Champions, a constant thorn in the side of Francis Gillot’s team and PSG’s most efficient outlet and source of creativity. His composure in front of goal let him down though and, like last season, it resulted in the side from the capital lacking the necessary cutting edge.
Lavezzi will likely be the player that makes way for ‘El Matador’ in Montpellier, judging by Blanc’s positive comments (in French) regarding Javier Pastore in a press conference earlier this week. However, Pastore’s laboured and lifeless showing in Libreville last weekend gave the impression that PSG were playing with 10 men at times. Going with Lavezzi on the left would give Blanc’s side a more direct threat than offered by his compatriot.
One thing that might work in Pastore’s favour though is the fact that teenage sensation Hervin Ongenda might miss out with a fever.
The young striker has been invaluable during preseason, also netting the equaliser as PSG came from behind to beat Bordeaux. But Blanc’s lack of depth up top might make him more likely to start Lavezzi on the bench. Doing so would mean that he has an attacking substitute available knowing that replacing Cavani, assuming he starts, will almost certainly be necessary.
Another player who looks likely to miss out at the Mosson is Thiago Motta, who was influential in the Trophee des Champions victory. The 30-year-old looked sprightly and reinvigorated. His set piece delivery was a constant threat that Francis Gillot’s Bordeaux had to deal with, but the Italian’s well-documented injury struggles have resurfaced already in training.
Marco Verratti will undoubtedly step in to replace his 30-year-old Azzurri teammate.
The only other possible change to the line up could come in defence. Alex started the match with Bordeaux ahead of Mamadou Sakho, which was something of a surprise, but Marquinhos did not even travel with the squad. The 19-year-old Brazilian is likely to be included in Blanc’s squad for the trip to Montpellier, but it remains unclear whether he or the Frenchman will be able to usurp Alex for the clash.
Sakho is now faced with a difficult decision after Alex started ahead of him last weekend. Having been left out of Didier Deschamps’ latest France squad because of a lack of game time, the 23-year-old is in real danger of being overlooked ahead of Les Bleus’ potential appearance at the World Cup in Brazil next year. He is considering his future according to Le Parisien (h/t ESPN FC).
Elsewhere, Christophe Jallet hardly impressed at right back but, because of talks between PSG and Inter Milan regarding the loan of Gregory Van der Wiel according to le 10 Sport, the Frenchman is likely to continue.
Blanc’s possession-based game looked promising in parts against Bordeaux, but ‘Le President’ needs to sort out PSG’s lack of clinical finishing in front of goal. Cavani’s availability would go some way to solving that profligacy, but the team still needs more drive from the midfield, particularly on the left.
Over to you, Laurent.