When Paris Saint-Germain qualified for the final of the Coupe de la Ligue back in February, everything was going wonderfully well in the French capital. Now two months later, the Parisians are going through a so-called “mini crisis” as they prepare to face Lyon in Saturday night's cup final.
Current PSG boss Laurent Blanc is under pressure to win some silverware on Saturday. After elimination to Chelsea in the Champions League and a 1-0 league defeat to Lyon last weekend, if rumours are to be believed, per Julien Laurens on ESPN FC, nothing but a win will be enough for PSG's Qatari owners.
The Ligue 1 title is all but sewn up: A 10-point lead over AS Monaco allows for some less-than-perfect performances with five games to go, and that was evident during their defeat at the Stade Gerland on Sunday. Now Blanc has to pick up his troops and guide them to their first domestic cup in four years and their first victory in the Coupe de la Ligue since 2008.
Lyon will have their tails up, knowing that the almighty Paris Saint-Germain are far from invincible. Jordan Ferri’s excellent first-half strike was enough to down the giants last week, but the 20-year-old won't be able to influence the game this weekend as he alongside both Clement Grenier and Yoann Gourcuff will be missing from the OL midfield—Ferri through suspension, the latter duo through injury.
Sunday’s narrow victory was a much-needed result for Remi Garde’s side: It was only the third time in eight games they hadn’t tasted defeat; poor compared to the previous run that saw them only beaten twice in 23 games. That run was sparked by their 4-0 drubbing away at the Parc des Princes against Saturday's opponents.
Lyon can taste blood in the water, and Garde will be hoping he can twist the knife a little deeper into the PSG wound that is beginning to show.
With that in mind, Blanc must be very careful with his PSG team selection, and there will be a few changes to the side that lost on Sunday in Lyon.
Second-choice goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez will be handed the gloves this weekend. He started in the 2-1 semi-final win over Nantes and will likely be given the nod over Salvatore Sirigu on Saturday night.
In order to gain some more match sharpness after his recent injury, expect Dutch right-back Gregory van der Wiel to keep his place ahead of Christophe Jallet. The Frenchman will feel unlucky not to have won a place in the cup final side after his performances against Chelsea, but Blanc would rather play his first-choice team as much as he can.
One change that will be made to the defence after Sunday’s defeat will be the return of Brazilian defender Maxwell. Young French defender Lucas Digne was not in any way to blame for the defeat, but the experience of the former Barcelona left-back will be a crucial addition to the team.
The centre of the defence will definitely be patrolled by two Brazilians—the only question is which two. Marquinhos would love to get the nod from Blanc, but it will ultimately be the first-choice duo of Alex and Thiago Silva that are named in the starting line-up.
Thiago Silva—face-mask and all—will definitely take his place on the field. The PSG captain has been superb for most of the season. Eventually he will likely be paired with Marquinhos, but Alex is the more experienced and could be rewarded with a start in the final after it looks likely he will sign a new deal at the club.
Likely to face the test of both Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis up front, the experience of both Silva and Alex will be the right match-up to take on the Lyon forwards.
There will be no surprises in the Parisian midfield this Saturday. Yohan Cabaye was given a start in the league against Lyon: He performed to an acceptable level, but not to the high standard he set at Newcastle United and Lille. Expect Cabaye to take his place on the bench and for the tried-and-tested trio of Marco Verratti, Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta to take their rightful place in the centre of midfield once again.
The interesting decisions that Blanc will have to make come in the trio that he picks to spearhead the PSG attack against Lyon. In the league defeat, he picked Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and Edinson Cavani, and they fired blanks. Blanc will be tempted to make changes, the only problem being a lack of depth in the striker department.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still out with an injury, and he will be a huge miss in Saturday’s cup final. There is no player out there who thrives more on the big stage, and the theatre of the Stade de France will miss the Swedish striker.
Uruguayan striker Cavani will be given his third chance to shine as the central striker, and now things are getting serious as the doubts over his ability and form continue to grow. After missing some good chances away at Chelsea—he could have had a couple of goals versus Lyon—the jury is now out, and Cavani will need to silence the critics on Saturday night.
Team-mates at Napoli, Cavani will find the familiar sight of Ezequiel Lavezzi when he looks to his left, and the Argentine is one player who deserves his place in this forward line, no questions asked. His performances have been excellent in 2014, and his pace will be vital on the big Stade de France pitch.
Blanc then has the decision to play with Brazilian winger Lucas Moura or Argentine playmaker Javier Pastore. It was the former Palermo man, Pastore, who got the nod last weekend, and it is likely that he will again on Saturday.
Pastore provides a little more cover down the right flank defensively, and with Lyon set to play Henri Bedimo at left full-back, there are not many defenders equipped better to attack a far from fully fit Van der Wiel than Bedimo. Lucas’ ability to track back and defend is questionable, and Pastore may not be the perfect player to help cover, but he should be able to help his Dutch team-mate out when Bedimo comes flying forward.
If the PSG XI play to their combined strengths, then they should have enough to turn around Sunday’s result and beat Lyon on the night. It will not be easy, and the performances from the league game showed that PSG need to be playing near to their best to overcome Remi Garde’s side.
Lightning rarely strikes twice, but if it does on Saturday, the vultures will begin to circle around Laurent Blanc’s tenure as Paris Saint-Germain coach.
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