Who? FC Nantes vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Where? Stade de la Beaujoire
When? Sunday August 25, 9 p.m. (CEST)
TV Information: BT Sport 2, BT Sport 2 HD (UK), Canal+ (France), BeIN Sport (USA)
Odds: Nantes 12.7 percent, draw 24.8 percent and PSG 62.5 percent (via StatsInsights.com)
Paris Saint-Germain travel to newly promoted FC Nantes still looking for their first win of the new Ligue 1 season. Traditionally slow starters, Laurent Blanc’s side have drawn their opening two matches 1-1 away at Montpellier and 1-1 at home against Ajaccio.
Sunday’s hosts have fared a little better. Although they lost last week against FC Lorient, Les Canaris won their season-opening clash with SC Bastia 2-0. Unfortunately, due to a glaring administrative error, the side from Western France could be docked three points for fielding an ineligible player in that game. The club will appeal the decision according to L’Equipe (h/t ESPN FC).
Regardless of that though, Michel Der Zakarian’s side will start Sunday’s game one point and seven positions better off than the French champions in France’s early season table.
PSG were impressive against Ajaccio last week despite an underwhelming final score. Had it not been for an inspired Guillermo Ochoa, Blanc’s side could and should have won comfortably, having enjoyed 39 attempts on goal.
Nantes’ result against west coast neighbours Lorient was less encouraging given that they took the lead before shipping two goals. However, it has been a smoother return to Le Championnat than many anticipated despite their administrative woes.
The big positive for the side from the capital was a first league goal for Edinson Cavani. Returning from injury, the Uruguyan started the match and scored a stunning 86th-minute equaliser to end Ochoa’s brave resistance.
Although the result was far from ideal, there were some real signs of encouragement for Blanc and his PSG side in the game, not least the amount of chances they created. Cavani and new strike partner Zlatan Ibrahimovic also indicated that they can play together and that their partnership is indeed complementary. A resolute Corsican defence frustrated the latter on the day though.
One big negative from the game, aside from two more dropped points, was the head injury to French international midfielder Blaise Matuidi. The irrepressible 26-year-old needed eight stitches in his head after a clash with Ajaccio youngster Joshua Nadeau, and it is currently unclear when he will be back in action.
French right-back Christophe Jallet, Argentine playmaker Javier Pastore and Brazilian sensation Lucas Moura came in for criticism after their performances. The latter undeservedly so, but the two former were wretched at best at the Parc des Princes. Matuidi’s injury gives Blanc a few issues to ponder ahead of the trip to the Stade Beaujoire.
With the French international absent, "Le President" is lacking the usual bite in the midfield. Thiago Motta can arguably fill that void, but neither he, Marco Verratti nor the young starlet Adrien Rabiot have the same energetic, all-round presence as Matuidi. Given the need for some creativity in the middle of the park, Blanc could move Pastore infield from the left wing where he so often renders himself obsolete.
The difference made by Ezequiel Lavezzi when he replaced his compatriot out wide last weekend was clear for all to see. Given that Pastore looked slightly more encouraging in a deep-lying role against Montpellier on opening day, there could be a temptation to maximise PSG’s attacking potential by including Lavezzi from the start.
Nantes will be boosted by the return of French Under-20 World Cup winner Jordan Veretout in the midfield. The 20-year-old was sent off against Bastia on the opening day, missing last weekend’s trip to Lorient. His return will be a massive plus.
The involvement of Alejandro Bedoya last Sunday was encouraging too. The American international played 39 minutes and could be in contention to start against PSG in front of a sold-out stadium. In a midfield sometimes lacking a creative spark, the 26-year-old is still an unknown quantity in Ligue 1. That works to his and Nantes’ favour and could take the visitors by surprise.
Defending champions PSG though will be more concerned about the threat of prolific striker Filip Djordjevic. The 25-year-old Serbian, who is now eligible for French citizenship, scored 20 goals in Les Canaris’ promotion push last season. He is already off the mark this year, and the capital club need to keep him quiet on Sunday.
History favours Blanc’s men slightly in this fixture. In the pair’s last 10 meetings at the Stade Beaujoire, PSG have won four, while the hosts have only managed two victories and a draw has occurred four times accoridng to Ligue1.com. Another tie is a real possibility, but Les Parisiens will be keen to avoid another match without victory.
The pressure is already on PSG after taking only two points from a possible six to start with. Last season Carlo Ancelotti’s side did not win until week four, so there is no need for anybody to jump to rash conclusions just yet. But the longer PSG take to get started, the larger the head-start they give their early-season title rivals.
Monaco are in action on Friday and can stretch their lead over PSG to a provisional seven points if they can beat Toulouse. Marseille can do the same with a win at Valenciennes on Saturday.
By the time PSG take to the pitch in Nantes, the heat will be well and truly on Blanc's side to put in a convincing performance like last week’s against Ajaccio but to also get the goals they deserved this time around.