Key Battles That Will Shape PSG's Clash with Saint-Etienne

Jonathan Johnson@@Jon_LeGossipFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape PSG's Clash with Saint-Etienne

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    Thibault Camus/Associated Press

    AS Saint-Etienne are Paris Saint-Germain’s visitors to Parc des Princes for Sunday’s crunch Ligue 1 clash. Les Verts currently sit second in le Championnat, two points clear of the fifth-placed French champions, having won two of their three opening matches compared to PSG’s one.

    However, considering that Christophe Galtier’s men were taken to extra time and penalties in their UEFA Europa League qualifying victory over Kardemir Karabukspor on Thursday, the capital outfit will fancy their chances.

    Laurent Blanc’s players will have had more than a week to rest and digest the dour 0-0 draw away at Evian Thonon Gaillard last time out and will be keen to make up for lost time and close the gap on one of the three early season pace-setters.

    PSG have a handful of fitness concerns ahead of the game, but will have been boosted by the return of star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic to training this week after a short injury lay-off.

    Gregory van der Wiel could be some way off making his first-team return after being dropped by Netherlands coach Guus Hiddink for his country’s upcoming fixtures, but Serge Aurier is a more than competent alternative.

    Here are some key battles that will shape this clash.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Moustapha Bayal Sall

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    Laurent Cipriani/Associated Press

    Assuming that Ibrahimovic is fit enough to start—and his selection for Sweden’s upcoming matches suggests he will be—then the question will be put to Blanc once more as to how he plans to accommodate both the talismanic PSG No. 10 and strike partner Edinson Cavani.

    The Uruguayan once again failed to seize his chance playing in Zlatan’s absence, and Blanc could be tempted to once again go for the effective—but not ideal—4-3-3 formation, which involves playing Cavani out of position.

    Playing a 4-4-2 diamond or a 4-3-1-2 are perhaps better solutions, but until Blanc has a full complement of player available to him, it will continue to be difficult to change system. This means that a 4-3-3 is the most likely option, despite the likely absence of Saint-Etienne’s Loic Perrin after he exited Thursday’s match with an injury.

    Lining up in PSG’s standard formation will pit Ibrahimovic—or Cavani—up against les Verts’ physical and athletic Sall in central defence. Considering some of his past duels with the Swede, this is a battle well worth watching.

PSG’s Midfield Three vs. Fabien Lemoine and Renaud Cohade

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    Thibault Camus/Associated Press

    One player who will be unavailable for the visit of Saint-Etienne is Yohan Cabaye, who was sent off at Evian last week for two bookable offences. Without the French international, there is one less headache in the midfield for Blanc.

    Therefore, Le President will likely choose between Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore.

    If Blanc wanted to go with his regular trio of Motta, Matuidi and Verratti, he could still deploy Pastore further forward—as he did against Evian—but so much depends on Ibrahimovic’s fitness. If the Swede is fit, though, it means that Cavani could get pushed out wide once again and that one of Pastore of Lucas Moura will have to settle for a substitute’s role.

    Blanc is likely to go with his regular three of Motta, Matuidi and Verratti, in order to combat ASSE’s deep-lying pair of Fabien Lemoine and Renaud Cohade and the more advanced Benjamin Corgnet.

Lucas Moura vs. Franck Tabanou

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    Pre-season sensation Jean-Christophe Bahebeck will be eager to receive a chance to impress after his excellent showings over the summer, as will Ezequiel Lavezzi, who is becoming something of a forgotten man at PSG since returning following his excellent FIFA World Cup displays with Argentina.

    However, Blanc will look to exploit the fact that Saint-Etienne’s Franck Tabanou is not a natural left-back, and he will be looking for some of his faster, wider talents to get in behind him and expose les Verts’ left side.

    Lucas Moura will likely be the chosen weapon, although Bahebeck could present an interesting alternative.

Lucas Digne vs. Romain Hamouma

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    With Mevlut Erding potentially a doubt after his injury suffered in the Karabukspor match, PSG will need to shut down Saint-Etienne’s creative outlet, Romain Hamouma, in order to ultimately triumph.

    Loosely positioned on the right but given creative licence to roam, the ASSE No. 21 will be looking to put pressure on the PSG defence where possible. It will be Lucas Digne or Maxwell’s job to stop him.

    The Brazilian certainly has the most experience in these situations, but Digne’s recent call-up to the French senior side—following his World Cup squad role—suggests that coach Didier Deschamps has acknowledged his progress since the start of the season. The 21-year-old may well be given the nod over Maxwell on Sunday in order to continue his excellent run of form.