Paris Saint-Germain are riding the crest of an impressive wave of form at present and travel to face AS Saint-Etienne on Sunday. The defending champions have looked thoroughly dominant in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League in recent weeks and will arrive in the Loire on a run of four consecutive league victories.
PSG have won seven of their 10 games so far this season, and Laurent Blanc’s side are two points clear of title rivals AS Monaco at the top of Le Championnat.
However, in Les Verts they face something of a bête noire. The capital club have only registered two wins in their last 10 trips to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and failed to beat Christophe Galtier’s men in three attempts last season.
With that in mind, it will be intriguing to see if Zlatan Ibrahimovic can continue his incredible vein of rich goalscoring form, and whether Saint-Etienne pose PSG the same threat without last season’s talisman, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Swede was on the scoresheet the last time the two met but has enjoyed mixed fortunes against the Stéphanois.
In last season’s 2-1 home defeat, Ibrahimovic was sent off for a lunging tackle on ASSE goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier. He then scored a penalty in PSG’s shootout defeat at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, as the side from the capital crashed out of the Coupe de la Ligue 5-3 after a goalless draw in normal time.
Saint-Etienne are a side against whom victory has evaded the towering striker, for now.
Going into the game, Blanc has a nearly full-strength side to choose from, with the exception of Thiago Silva’s continued absence through the thigh injury he suffered last month.
Provided Alex’s substitution against RSC Anderlecht in the Champions League on Wednesday was just precautionary, Le President could name the same side that pulverised the Belgian champions.
However, following a quiet performance from Ezequiel Lavezzi at the Constant Vanden Stock, the Argentine international could make way. An improved showing from Lucas Moura against Bastia last weekend means the Brazilian could be the only change to the starting XI.
The 21-year-old was excellent against the Corsicans, although his performance lacked the goal that it perhaps deserved. Plus, he won’t want to miss an opportunity to unveil the interesting new boot design he will be sporting for adidas on Sunday, as revealed by Bleacher Report.
Lavezzi, while valuable for his industry and the opportunities that it brings, more often than not is too wasteful in front of goal. Outside of the Argentine’s speed, Moura arguably offers PSG more in terms of his superior technical ability and set-piece delivery.
The talented Selecao star does not have the consistency of Lavezzi at present. But in recent weeks he has shown that there is perhaps more potential in his inclusion than Lavezzi’s alongside Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani.
When on form, Moura is more of an asset for the defending champions. Outside of his one solitary goal this season against Nantes, El Pocho has contributed little else in Ligue 1. Moura, despite only boasting a single strike so far this season, has at least provided one directly with an assist, too.
Neither are performing to the best of their abilities, but in taking Lavezzi out of the starting lineup, Blanc would raise an intriguing possibility: switching Cavani to the left of the front three.
El Matador is not familiar with his current right-sided station and could benefit from being moved wide on the left, a position he sometimes occupies for Uruguay on international duty. It is far from ideal, but it could go some way towards solving the Ibrahimovic-Cavani problem that continues to plague PSG despite their impressive start to life under Blanc.
Should it be successful, it would inevitably raise alternative questions about Lavezzi’s long-term future in the capital. But equally, Moura starting on the bench on a regular basis poses queries over his future in the French capital, as we approach next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Elsewhere, PSG should remain unchanged. Once again, the importance of the three-man midfield including Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta demonstrated its importance against Anderlecht, allowing complete domination of possession.
Verratti and Motta were suspended against Bastia last time out but are available for the trip to Saint-Etienne. Expect the threesome to be reinstated in the middle.
Although allowing Lucas Digne more valuable playing time is starting to become a pressing issue for Blanc, Maxwell should start at left-back on Sunday. Gregory van der Wiel’s excellent performance in Belgium has almost certainly put an end to any of Christophe Jallet’s lingering hopes of usurping the Dutchman as PSG’s first-choice right-back.
The Frenchman missed out against Anderlecht through injury, but even if fit he will likely be on the bench at best. Marquinhos will continue in the centre; the only question is whether or not Alex’s knock against Anderlecht is enough to keep him out of the clash.
Saint-Etienne are a difficult team to beat on the road and, after a poor end to September, are picking up pace once again, following a narrow 3-2 win over FC Lorient. Galtier’s men have lost just once at home so far this season, but now is the perfect time for PSG to face them.