Paris Saint-Germain will host SC Bastia on Saturday after a busy international break for many of the capital club’s stars. The clash with the Corsicans will also be PSG’s 1,000th match at their Parc des Princes home.
Following a 2-1 win over Olympique de Marseille last time out, the defending champions now have momentum heading out of the international fortnight.
Despite being kept away from the top spot by AS Monaco on goal difference for the time being, Laurent Blanc’s side are still unbeaten this season. Moreover, they have never lost at home to Bastia since having first met in 1971, according to ligue1.com’s statistics.
History and the statistics may be on PSG’s side, but I Turchini will not be easy opponents.
Despite lying 10th in Le Championnat’s standings after nine games, Frederic Hantz’s men strengthened intelligently over the summer and pose multiple threats.
As Hantz’s opposite, Blanc also has some thinking to do ahead of the clash.
Le President has a number of injuries and suspensions to key players to contend with and will be forced to rethink his tactics.
Star midfielders Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta are suspended, as reported by soccerway.com, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic is rated as uncertain, according to lequipe.fr (translated from French as a bilingual).
Gregory van der Wiel is another doubt through injury after a knee problem forced him to withdraw from the latest Netherlands squad, per soccerway.com’s information. Thiago Silva is still out after he suffered a thigh injury against AS Monaco at the end of September.
So many absences will certainly force Blanc into some changes, but it might also prompt a formation switch.
There is no obvious replacement for the three central midfielders in Verratti and Motta’s absences; that might result in an experimental system, moving away from the customary three-man midfield.
The 4-2-2-2 enjoyed relative success under Carlo Ancelotti last season, and there are the players at Blanc’s disposal to play in such a style once again.
Alternatively, the Frenchman might decide to switch back to the 4-4-2 that was attempted at the start of the term.
Whether or not Blanc sticks with his preferred 4-3-3 formation depends largely on whether or not he opts to start enigmatic playmaker Javier Pastore.
The Argentine has been below par so far this campaign and it may be more out of necessity rather than choice that he is handed a starting berth.
Promising teenager Adrien Rabiot coming into the other midfield role is a straight swap and, based on recent form, not even a dip in quality. The match will also give the 18-year-old further valuable game time as he continues to develop at a rapid pace.
Sticking with that three-man midfield, as it is a possibility, also makes sense in many ways. The tactics have been working so far this season, so why change them?
Adapting the team’s approach for one game solely because two influential midfielders are suspended does not benefit the rest of the team, particularly those still adapting to their new teammates.
Instead, Blanc will likely stick with the three in midfield but make big changes further forward.
Cavani will replace Ibrahimovic in the middle, assuming that the Swede is not fit enough to feature, giving him a rare chance to impress through the centre. El Matador moving inside, of course, opens up a berth on the right of the three-pronged attack.
Brazilian Lucas Moura, who was impressive for the Selecao in their recent friendly against Zambia, could be afforded a rare start. Another in the mix for first XI place could Jeremy Menez, who is now back to full fitness and chomping at the bit for some game time.
The two-week break gave the Frenchman some valuable time to catch up with his teammates in fitness terms, so he could feature on either side of the front three. In all likelihood, it will come at the expense of Ezequiel Lavezzi, who returns from a taxing international fortnight in South America where he netted twice for La Albiceleste against Peru.
With an important Champions League clash at Anderlecht coming up next week, Blanc will no doubt be tempted to rest his key players to ensure that nine points out of nine are on the board after Wednesday’s European clash.
That might also factor into his thinking at the back.
Alex and Marquinhos will reprise their roles in the middle as Silva continues to recover from his thigh injury. But Lucas Digne could be given a chance to impress at left-back after Maxwell played in both of Brazil’s friendly matches during the break.
Christophe Jallet will replace van der Wiel and has what is now expected to be one of few chances to win his starting place back from the Dutchman after a poor start to the season.
Perhaps Blanc’s greatest achievement so far in his time at the club is that he has set the collective expectation so high that even an “average” team performance makes PSG very difficult to beat.
The hosts may end up making a plethora of changes on Saturday, but one such average showing from the champions should see them ease past Bastia.