Following their 2-2 draw with Stade de Reims on the opening weekend of Ligue 1 action, French champions Paris Saint-Germain travel to Italy to take on SSC Napoli on Monday as part of the Acqua Lete Cup.
While the timing of the game is questionable—three days after Reims and five days before they face SC Bastia at Parc des Princes—the clash with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani’s former side gives PSG coach Laurent Blanc a valuable chance to experiment with a few different options.
As former Partenopei players, the Parisien pair will be expected to play a key role in the encounter—certainly Lavezzi, as the match was part of the transfer deal that took him to Paris back in 2012—but Blanc has a number of other options to test out at Stadio San Paolo.
Firstly and most importantly, if at all possible, Blanc needs to keep Javier Pastore in the team after his encouraging performance against Reims on Friday. The enigmatic Argentine playmaker has struggled to rediscover his best form since moving to France, but his displays at the end of last season and solid pre-season form have suggested that he is ready to play a big part for PSG this season.
Blanc needs to do everything to help Pastore maintain this good start and build upon it. A return to Italy for a game like this is perfect to aid El Flaco’s continuity, and a good showing against Rafael Benitez’s men could lead to another excellent performance against Bastia next weekend.
Cavani is need of a chance to play in the game too but for different reasons.
El Matador was dreadful against Reims, and while it would be unfair to blame the team’s poor performance entirely on the Uruguayan, PSG’s No. 9 is looking short of confidence at the moment. A return to his former stomping ground could be exactly what the 27-year-old needs to reinvigorate himself.
Blanc needs to get Cavani back to his old clinical, goalscoring self, and the best way to do that is by using a match like this to help him find the net. In order to do that, Blanc could choose to start Cavani ahead of strike partner Zlatan Ibrahimovic—who is clearly in his best shape already this season—to keep the Swede in good condition for the visit of Bastia.
The South American revealed to Sky Sport Italia (h/t Goal’s Jack Davies) that he expects an emotional return to Naples, so Blanc should be looking to harness that emotion and that desire to perform well in front of his old audience by putting him in the best possible position to impress.
Considering the squad depth that PSG now possess, Le President is able to make a number of changes elsewhere and field what will essentially be an alternative XI.
There are a number of players who have not yet featured for Les Parisiens this pre-season because of their extended holidays thanks to FIFA World Cup action. Those players—including French duo Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye, Brazilian duo Maxwell and David Luiz, as well as Lavezzi—should all start in Italy.
Monday’s clash also offers Blanc the chance to involve the likes of new signing Serge Aurier and offer the Ivorian the chance to stake his claim for a starting place against Bastia, particularly after Gregory van der Wiel’s shaky performance against Reims.
Captain Thiago Silva looked well off the pace against Jean-Luc Vasseur’s men at Stade Auguste Delaune on Friday, and the Brazilian could do with some extra minutes ahead of the Bastia clash next weekend. The Napoli friendly is also a great opportunity for Blanc to test out the Silva-Luiz central defensive partnership for the first time.
Adrien Rabiot miss out through injury once more, per PSG.fr's squad list (in French), so there is the possibility that Blanc uses Luiz in midfield. However, Pastore’s potential inclusion in the midfield three once again would mean that Luiz stays in defence. It could also mean Lucas Moura gets another chance to continue his return to first-team football after his pre-season injury troubles.
While the Napoli clash is not likely to be an indicator of Blanc’s plans for his strongest starting XI this season, it does give the Frenchman the opportunity to bring a number of important World Cup stars into the fold and to start easing them back into action. With Bastia at home looming on Saturday, those who impress against the Italians could find themselves in line to start against the Corsicans.