With one eye now firmly on next Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg against Chelsea following their 3-1 home win earlier this week, Paris Saint-Germain’s Ligue 1 clash with Stade de Reims on Saturday was always going to be a question of rotation.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc will almost certainly look to make wholesale changes to his side in an effort to make sure his players are in peak physical condition for the Stamford Bridge clash.
A 13-point lead at the summit of le Championnat allows for such prioritisation.
It is testament to the improvements that the French champions have made over the past 12 months that they can fully focus on next week’s crucial European encounter. Safe in the knowledge that—even in defeat—AS Monaco will still be 10 points behind them with just six games left, PSG can afford to indulge.
Reims are by no means pushovers, although they have endured something of a barren recent run.
Hubert Fournier’s men are without a win in four games and will arrive in the capital placed seventh in the league, still only four points behind fifth-place Olympique Lyonnais in the chase for European qualification.
With that in mind, Blanc and PSG must remain vigilant, despite their impending second successive title.
In terms of those who started the thrilling 3-1 victory over Chelsea earlier this week, a number of them could feature for the Parisians again from the off at the Parc des Princes come Saturday.
Goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu is likely to continue between the sticks, although the game does present the opportunity for Blanc to give reserve netminder Nicolas Douchez a first league appearance this season.
Considering the Frenchman’s form when called upon in the domestic cups this term though, it could prove to be an unnecessary risk.
Right-back Christophe Jallet may also feature from the start, assuming that first-choice Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel is not fit enough to play. The 26-year-old has been suffering from chronic tendonitis in his right knee for the best part of a month now and his entire season could eventually be compromised.
Yohan Cabaye featured against Chelsea as a substitute and may well find himself in the starting XI for the second leg, given his familiarity with the opposition and their southwest London home. The French international could be given the first hour or so against Reims to get himself into top shape ahead of Tuesday’s showdown.
Marco Verratti, who exited the field on Wednesday with cramp, may find himself demoted to the bench next week after a naive performance against Chelsea. However, he will not feature against Reims as he is suspended. That means either Thiago Motta or Blaise Matuidi will likely be deprived of some deserved rest.
Misfiring striker Edinson Cavani will now lead the line for PSG in the absence of the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has been ruled out for a month according to club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi (h/t ESPN FC).
The Uruguayan will start, but may be withdrawn after an hour if the opportunity is presented to Blanc to preserve el Matador. Alongside him, Wednesday’s hero, Javier Pastore, could be granted a start in reward for his fine solo effort to secure the 3-1 win over Jose Mourinho’s side.
Although the enigmatic Argentine playmaker could equally find himself deployed as one of the midfield three, Blanc is more likely to want to preserve Ezequiel Lavezzi’s stamina for the Stamford Bridge clash.
Lucas Moura will almost certainly be the other player that gets the nod alongside Cavani and probably Pastore.
The Brazilian looked lively when he came on against Chelsea and will now be needed in peak condition ahead of the return leg after Ibrahimovic’s injury opens up a space on the right of the front three, with Cavani moving inside.
Switching back to the midfield, one of Motta or Matuidi will be given a breather, as both will play crucial roles next Tuesday.
Talented 18-year-old academy graduate Adrien Rabiot could be given a rare chance to impress from the start, likely coming in alongside Cabaye and either the Italian or the Frenchman. Unless Blanc goes with Pastore, which means perhaps bringing Jeremy Menez or Hervin Ongenda into the front three.
Then into defence once more and, alongside Jallet, Marquinhos will probably feature from the start in place of fellow Brazilian Alex. The 31-year-old, who is set to extend his stay in the French capital by one year according to ESPN FC, will be replied upon to put in an exemplary performance against former side Chelsea next week.
Captain Thiago Silva may also be rested, creating the rarest of opportunities for veteran defender Zoumana Camara to step into the fray. The Selecao skipper has been playing with a facemask recently, to nurse a fractured cheekbone, and Blanc could opt to rest him after losing star man Ibrahimovic.
Finally, French international Lucas Digne will likely be given another chance to press his claims at left-back in the place of Maxwell. The Brazilian international was excellent against Chelsea, dominating the left side of the pitch and failing to misplace a single pass all game.
Blanc will be keen to keep the 32-year-old fit and will have no qualms about starting with Digne who, despite being second choice behind the unerringly consistent Maxwell, has actually been in fabulous form whenever called upon.
This will likely be the other way around next season, with Digne surely le President’s starting choice at left-back for the next campaign. For now though, it is Maxwell who will be starting against Chelsea next week.
Assuming that Blanc does implement all of those changes, PSG should still have more than enough to overcome a solid, well-organised, but limited Reims side.
It promises to be an entertaining match, between two attractive sides, but the champions’ current momentum should be enough to see them cruise past Fournier’s men.
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