PSG out to break records at Lille
Paris Saint-Germain manager Laurent Blanc finally put pen to paper on a one-year contract extension with newly-crowned French champions PSG on Thursday, tying him to the capital club until 2016. Fresh from sealing a second consecutive Ligue 1 title -- despite losing 2-1 at home to Stade Rennais on Wednesday -- le President and his team now travel north to face third-placed Lille OSC in search of three more points as they try to end the season in style.
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The Parc des Princes loss earlier this week was disappointing for PSG as they continue to throw away what was a handsome lead over AS Monaco. Les Parisiens currently lead les Monegasques by seven points, but that gap had been as big as 13 at the start of April. With just two games left to play, that seven-point cushion could erode further and PSG's real dominance of le Championnat this campaign will not be reflected in the final standings.
Criticisms have been levelled at the side for not taking the domestic title seriously enough and the players have stated their disappointment at the booing they received -- despite the confirmation of their title triumph -- on Wednesday. There should be no shortage of motivation for the players at the Stade Pierre Mauroy on Saturday though, with PSG chasing a number of Ligue 1 records.
First, the side from the capital need just two more points from their final two matches to ensure that they break Olympique Lyonnais' all-time points tally of 84 -- set in the 2005-06 season -- and add another record to their collection this season. Admittedly, they will feel that they should have secured that particular achievement against Rennes, but now they have the chance against Lille and then Montpellier HSC to do so.
Second, one more win would see PSG break their record number of victories in a single season. Set last year, Blanc's men have currently won 25 matches -- the same total that they managed under former boss Carlo Ancelotti -- and need one more three-point haul to set a new landmark. Lille is not a particularly happy hunting ground for PSG to chase this new achievement though, having won just once in their last 14 visits to northern France. Last season's 2-1 win over les Dogues was les Parisiens' first since 1997 and Rene Girard's men have proven exceptionally difficult to beat at home this season.
Added to their poor record in Lille, PSG will be without a host of first-team regulars at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.
Captain Thiago Silva is missing for "medical reasons" according to Blanc, while Edinson Cavani, Christophe Jallet and Gregory van der Wiel have been ruled out through injury. The Uruguayan's absence will be easily offset by the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the starting XI, but Silva's absence coupled with the unavailability of Jallet and van der Wiel poses a bit of a challenge.
Marquinhos would normally step in to replace his compatriot at the heart of the PSG defence alongside fellow Brazilian Alex. However, the 19-year-old will now likely be played at right-back -- a position that he has filled before -- meaning that Blanc will almost certainly have to hand a rare start to veteran defender Zoumana Camara. Former Lille players Yohan Cabaye and Lucas Digne could also be handed starting roles against their former side, while Lucas Moura will probably be given a chance to make up for his World Cup Brazil squad omission heartache by starting in attack with Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Marco Verratti should return to the starting XI after being benched against Rennes too, possibly at the expense of the once again abject Javier Pastore.
If PSG can awaken themselves from their end of season slumber, then there is a chance that Blanc and his side can end the term in style and do some justice to their superb campaign which is approaching its end. Having already admitted that the team have been taking it easy in preparation for their recent matches though, les Parisiens might find themselves outfought by a Lille side in need of a victory to ensure UEFA Champions League qualification.
Victory in Lille is certainly not beyond PSG, but with little left to fight for now that the title is secure, it is difficult to see the team showing too much desire to claim the three points. Instead, it might be left until the final day to break the two records.