This Saturday Paris Saint-Germain take on EA Guingamp in Beijing for the first silverware of the new French season. It’s the French champions against the winners of the Coupe de France in the Workers’ Stadium as China welcomes Ligue 1 for its inaugural curtain raiser.
Laurent Blanc has endured a mixed pre-season, with many of his star players returning late due to the World Cup in Brazil. With strength in depth in each position it will still be a strong side that the French coach picks, with just a few players missing from what would be his strongest XI going into the new season.
There is only one man in contention to play between the posts, Italian goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu is PSG’s undisputed No. 1 and he will be wearing the gloves on Saturday.
Defensively, there are some worries for the champions. Both David Luiz and Thiago Silva are yet to return to their club sides after Brazil’s run to the semi-finals of the World Cup.
That means that it will be Marquinhos and Zoumana Camara to start against EAG this Saturday. During pre-season, the duo have looked vulnerable when up against a decent front line. Red Bull Leipzig took advantage of the shaky duo and put four past PSG.
Against Nice and Kitchee, PSG only conceded three times, but those games were not as testing as against Leipzig. It is unclear what sort of test Guingamp will provide on Saturday. They have Mustapha Yatabare and new signing Ronnie Schwartz, but it’s hard to predict what threat they will have together.
Lucas Digne will likely start at left-back, the France defender has been a feature this pre-season and will be looking to edge out Brazilian Maxwell as the league season progresses.
On the opposite side, Blanc has to choose between last season’s first choice, Gregory van der Wiel and new signing Serge Aurier. The Ivorian defender replaced the Dutchman after 61 minutes against Kitchee and had a hand in setting up Ibrahimovic for PSG’s sixth goal.
This would be the ideal time to give Aurier his first start, Guingamp is a side that he will know well from his time in Ligue 1 and it is a very low-risk, high-reward move.
Going forward, we are likely to see a change to the regular PSG formation from last season. Edinson Cavani has been deemed fit for Saturday’s game and it could see the beginning of Blanc playing a formation that would look more like a 4-3-1-2–with Cavani getting his wish to play more centrally.
The Uruguayan forward answered doubts surrounding his future in an interview with Ligue1.com this week.
I'm certain of staying here at Paris; why wouldn't I be? I feel great in Paris and I have a contract to see out with PSG [until 2018]. I'm calm; I prefer living in Paris as I feel good here. But as I've already said, my decision doesn't simply depend on what position I play, but also on a number of other factors present in the functioning of a club.
From Cavani’s later comments, it looks like he has got his way and will play alongside Ibrahimovic, rather than starting on the right. "We had some small problems about the position I wanted to play in but now I feel absolutely fine about it."
For a player that felt he was playing out of position, he scored 21 goals in all domestic competitions and played a huge part in PSG’s victories in the league and Coupe de la Ligue.
Both Hervin Ongenda and Jean-Christophe Bahebeck have been playing regularly this pre-season, so they will feel disappointed to be left out from the start against Guingamp.
Bahebeck especially, the forward has returned from two disappointing loan spells at Troyes and Valenciennes to score six times in five pre-season games. He has given himself every chance of being in Laurent Blanc’s plans for this campaign and will surely play some part on Saturday.
Behind the front two, Javier Pastore could play in the role of playmaker, it’s a position he has never really been given the chance to play from his time in Paris. That is his natural position on the football pitch and it will be a great opportunity for him to show that he still has a future at this club.
Then Blanc will have to pick a trio of midfielders to link the play from the back. Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta are definite candidates to start the game, but there is an opening for the third place.
Pastore had been starting in PSG’s earlier 4-3-3 formation, but with his move further forward it could leave a space for Clement Chantome to gain a rare start.
After playing out on loan at Toulouse last season, it was expected that the midfielder would move away this summer, per Get French Football News, but with the talented passer of the ball still at the club, there is no reason for Blanc not to use him with both Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye still not back in the squad.
PSG’s 4-3-1-2 will take on the 4-4-2 of Jocelyn Gourvennec’s Guingamp. The front line may have a new look to it, but the centre of defence will pull no surprises. Christophe Kerbrat and Jeremy Sorbon were superb for EAG last season; they played out of their skin as the unfancied side survived in Ligue 1 and went all the way to beat Rennes in the Coupe de France final.
The Guingamp coach does have the option of playing either of his new signings Maxime Baca and Benjamin Angoua on Saturday, but it is expected that he will go with the central-defensive duo that served him so well in Ligue 1.
At right-back, new signing Lars Jacobsen should get the nod; he adds vital experience and has played in the Premier League in England and internationally for Denmark.
There are not a lot of options on the left. Dorian Leveque wasn’t first choice last season, but after 18 starts, the 24-year-old looks like being Gourvennec’s main option this campaign.
In the midfield it is mostly as you were for Guingamp, three out of the four starters of last year are back plus the addition of Sylvain Marveaux, on loan from Newcastle United.
Younousse Sankhare is the player that has the x-factor in the middle of the Guingamp midfield. He is tall, strong, has long legs to get up and down the pitch and is a huge reason for his sides’ success last season. He will cause the PSG midfield some problems on Saturday.
Lionel Mathis will likely captain the side and will be hoping to lift the Trophee des Champions for the first time. Mathis adds the defensive strength to the midfield. He will be the player making the tackles and getting involved, while giving Claudio Beauvue and Marveaux space to play and attack on the wings.
PSG should have enough to see off Guingamp in Beijing no matter the XI that both coaches pick, but they will need to play to their ability. It could take some cameos from Bahebeck and Ongenda off the bench to see PSG claim the Trophee des Champions.