SG were missing nine potential first-choice players for their trip to Nîmes on Friday evening (Mauro Icardi, Neymar, Marquinhos, Ángel Di María, Juan Bernat, Julian Draxler, Thilo Kehrer, Marco Verratti, Danilo Pereira) yet still cruised to a 4-0 win over Les Crocos in a bad-tempered affair. Admittedly, the hosts also had their share of absentees, with captain Anthony Briançon suspended and the sublime winger Zinedine Ferhat out with a hamstring injury, but it was still a potent reminder of PSG’s class. They remain a force with which to be reckoned.
Thomas Tuchel had to deal with a handful of departures this summer, including captain Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani, Thomas Meunier and Eric-Maxim Choupo Moting, the hero of their dramatic win over Atalanta in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Gone too are the promising youngsters Adil Aouchiche and Tanguy Kouassi – continuing a pattern of young academy talent leaving the club due to lack of playing time. Tuchel spared little ire for his sporting director, Leonardo, when his team, undermanned by Covid-19 and injuries, started the season with defeats to Marseille and Lens, before needing a 94th-minute winner against Metz to pick up their first points.
For the manager, these results illustrated the lack of depth available to him, with only Alessandro Florenzi having come in at that stage. That win against Metz was costly in the sense that PSG lost left-back Juan Bernat for the season to a cruciate injury, but it was also a turning point for Tuchel and his players. In the four matches since, PSG have scored 15 goals and conceded just once. They are now just two points behind league leaders Lille.
Some of their wins, including a 6-1 thumping of Angers, came courtesy of the usual suspects. Neymar has two goals and an assist despite playing just three matches, while Mauro Icardi scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Reims. As was the case on Friday though, the team have been proving that they perhaps have more depth, particularly in attack, than expected. The supposed lack of options was particularly worrying because Mbappé had been off the boil for club and country, whether because he was struggling under a heavy workload or still recovering from a nasty ankle injury he suffered in late July.
He played for France against Croatia in Zagreb on Wednesday night – and scored a late winner – so it was a surprise to see him starting against Nîmes less than 48 hours later. However, he excelled on Friday, scoring twice despite playing in an unfamiliar XI, the team having lined up in a 4-3-3 with both Rafinha and Moise Kean getting first starts. He seems to have turned a corner and looks to be hitting top form in time for the visit of Manchester United on Tuesday.
For PSG to have a successful campaign in the Champions League, they will need Mbappé to be on top form, but they cannot expect him to turn in this sort of performance (with very little rest) every week. Rather, for the club to progress in Europe while maintaining their domestic dominance, they will need to utilise their squad, whose lack depth Tuchel had already bemoaned as being unbecoming of an elite team. That was, of course, before the club signed Pereira (on loan from Porto), Moise Kean (on loan from Everton) and Rafinha (on a free transfer from Barcelona) late in the transfer window.
Pereira was unavailable against Nîmes as a precaution after his Portugal teammate Cristiano Ronaldo tested positive for Covid-19, but the other new recruits, along with Florenzi, were all in the starting XI on Friday and they – along with several other “squad” players – more than showed their mettle. Rafinha stood out, playing as the most advanced of the midfield three. He set up a goal and gave as good as he got in a physical battle, while still displaying plenty of class in knitting play together and keeping possession.
Florenzi, who looks like a canny acquisition, provided some fine crosses throughout and scored his second goal of the campaign. Kean was less impressive. He showed good movement in leading the line, was a willing runner and hit the woodwork, but his relationship with his fellow attackers needs more time to develop.
The evening’s star turn came not from a new acquisition but from Pablo Sarabia. The Spaniard, who was a potent attacking force at Sevilla but is a clear step down from PSG’s usual wide players Neymar and Di María, made two goals and scored another, offering the kind of performance that more than justified his €18m move last summer.
Mbappé aside, this 4-0 win offered a firm rebuttal to Tuchel’s worries about the depth of his squad. It remains to be seen how the animus between the coach and sporting director develops in the long run, but for now it looks as if Tuchel has the squad he needs to compete on multiple fronts. Rotation need not be an issue for this squad, which is particularly good news given the hyper-compressed nature of the Champions League group stage. What was a worry for PSG a few weeks ago while they were in the relegation places does not look concerning now.
Ligue 1 resultsTalking points
• Finally, Marseille enjoyed a convincing 3-1 win over Bordeaux before their trip to Olympiakos in the Champions League. Despite missing the suspended Dimitri Payet, the hosts saw strong performances from Jordan Amavi and Florian Thauvin, with Michäel Cuisance making his debut in convincing fashion as well. With Manchester City and Porto also in their group, it is imperative that Marseille do the double over the Greek side. The confidence gained from this result will help them on Wednesday.
• Papering over the cracks or turning a corner? Lyon fans will be unsure. A 3-2 win away to Strasbourg is a decent result but they still have work to do to reclaim a place in the top three. It was a result achieved despite some shaky defending, with Anthony Lopes making several fine saves, but Les Gones will have also revelled in Karl Toko Ekambi and Tino Kadewere getting off the mark for the season, fuelled by Memphis Depay’s three assists. It was not all smooth sailing though. Houssem Aouar was largely a passenger and Moussa Dembélé offered up an unconvincing appearance off the bench. A tougher test looms against Monaco on Sunday.
• As for Monaco, they missed a golden opportunity to not only put pressure on the top three but also get one over on a European rival, drawing 1-1 at home to Montpellier despite La Paillade having Téji Savanier sent off after just 20 minutes. Jonas Omlin played well in goal for the visitors, but the lack of proven attacking options for Niko Kovac’s side could yet make this season more challenging than the Croatian might have initially thought.
Ligue 1 table