Monaco have eyes on bigger prizes ahead of PSG cup semifinal
PSG vs. Monaco, act IV. In the Shakespearean drama that is French football this year, the two best teams in the country are meeting again, for the fourth occasion this season, this time in the French Cup semifinal on Wednesday night.
The two Ligue 1 leaders are level on points, though Monaco have a game in hand and a much better goal difference (16 goals more).
The first three encounters all had their own drama, twists and suspense. Back in August, PSG were stunned by the home side's attacking brilliance and the perfect tactical plan of Leonardo Jardim (where he played defender Djibril Sidibe as a right midfielder). Monaco won 3-1 and Unai Emery suffered his first defeat in only his third league match as PSG manager.
In the reverse fixture, in January, at the Parc des Princes, PSG thought they had their revenge. It was not a pretty game but Edinson Cavani's penalty in the 81st minute looked like it did the job. However, right in the dying seconds, Bernardo Silva snatched a draw for Monaco which kept them three points clear of their hosts.
Eventually, two months later, PSG beat Monaco in the League Cup final in Lyon (4-1). The pressure of winning a potential first trophy, the absence of key striker Radamel Falcao and the lack of experience in these kinds of games got to the young Monaco squad, who were torn apart by the Parisians.
However, this time will be different. In a crazy fixture schedule, the French Cup is not Monaco's priority and rightly so. They have far bigger trophies to chase in Ligue 1 and the Champions League.
Wednesday's game will be No. 56 this season, more than any other team in Europe. Monaco played their first official match back in July in the Champions League third round qualifier against Fenerbahce. The players are tired both physically and mentally; the buzz and adrenaline of their winning run and of being on the verge of a special season can only take them so far, despite all their talent.
If you compare the two squads this season, Cavani is the PSG player who has spent the most time on the pitch: 3,607 minutes. Six Monaco players (Danijel Subasic, Jemerson, Kamil Glik, Fabinho, Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar) have played more than him, while Tiemoue Bakayoko has only featured 30 minutes less.
Jardim has already announced that, while he still wants to win, he will leave most of his stars out and field a team with usual first-team subs and players from the reserve side. The club will play by the rules -- they have to put out a team with at least seven players from the 18 names who have featured in one of their last two league matches.
But rotation has been part of Monaco's DNA this year; Jardim has never named the same starting XI in two consecutive matches this season. This time, it will be Monaco's C team and you can't really blame them.
The French Cup is one extra competition that they just don't fancy at the moment, preferring to keep fresh legs for their Ligue 1 match against Toulouse on Sunday and then their Champions League semifinal clash with Juventus next week.
One can argue that, if they PSG, they have a great chance to win their first trophy since 2003, considering the other semifinal is between Angers and Guingamp). But they prefer to focus on the two big prizes. They could end up winning none, one (more likely the league) or both but they can't be criticised for fielding a weakened team in this game.
PSG won't care though; they will field their strongest team. They still believe that another win against their rivals can have a psychological impact on the league title race (much like Chelsea and Tottenham in England).
Yet they thought the same after their League Cup triumph. While the Parisians expected Monaco to be affected by it and their league form to dip, it was the opposite. Monaco have won their six matches since and PSG now need them to slip up at least twice in their five remaining league games if they are to come back.
Monaco might have their eyes on bigger prizes, but the result could still have dramatic repercussions on the rest of the season. PSG will be hoping to take full advantage, but if Monaco can finish the season as Ligue 1 and Champions League winners, it will be them who have the last laugh.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.