Cup champions PSG need to refocus for Evian visit
Coupe de la Ligue winners Paris Saint-Germain are immediately back in Ligue 1 action on Wednesday, with Evian Thonon Gaillard the visitors to the Parc des Princes. The French champions can re-establish their 10-point lead over AS Monaco at the top of le Championnat with a win, but they are faced with one of the two sides to have beaten them in the French top-flight so far this season.
Laurent Blanc's men jubilantly celebrated the capital club's fourth League Cup title following Saturday's 2-1 win over Olympique Lyonnais -- a first domestic cup title under Qatari ownership -- but need to set that aside immediately if they are to avoid prolonging the title race any longer. Last time out in the league, PSG were beaten 1-0 by Lyon at the Stade Gerland and lost their 13-point cushion at the top of the table.
An unnecessary defeat against Pascal Dupraz's side -- who are now edging towards safety in 16th place -- would mean that the Parisians are dragged back into a title race that they looked certain to have won just a few weeks ago. Three points would restore a 10-point gap though, meaning that there is still a chance for PSG to better last season's final winning margin of 12.
Edinson Cavani's return to goal scoring form is a big boost for the defending titleholders, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic is also nearing a return to first team action -- although he is not expected to be fit in time for the visit of the Savoyard outfit. But Blanc's recent statement of intent to sign the two-year contract should also provide greater certainty on the pitch, despite the recent reports linking him with the now vacant managerial role at ailing English Premier League giants Manchester United.
The Frenchman's position has been the subject of speculation since the 2-0 defeat to Chelsea in the second leg of the pair's UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, before PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi eventually came to the defence of the capital club's tactician with his "unconditional support." That scrutiny intensified following a 1-0 league defeat to Lyon, but the Coupe de la Ligue final win over les Gones last weekend appears to have calmed the storm.
What Blanc now needs to do -- aside from secure this Championnat title in the next two games -- is to start building towards next season.
One of the things that has become obvious over the past few weeks through the Champions League exit and even in the League Cup final is that Blanc needs to now develop an alternative strategy to the 4-3-3 formation that he values so highly at present. That approach -- particularly through its three central midfield players -- has enabled PSG to dominate the majority of their opponents domestically and has also enjoyed limited success on the continent.
However, there have been signs in recent matches that this one winning formula might not be enough anymore. Blanc's leadership of this side has impressed this season -- more than many thought it possible -- but that does not mean that le President will be shown any extra patience next season. The bar has been set high and the Frenchman will be expected to better this campaign's performance. In order to do this, greater tactical flexibility is needed.
With Evian, FC Sochaux-Montbeliard, Stade Rennais, Lille OSC and Montpellier HSC left to play, those five matches present Blanc with an excellent opportunity to experiment with his side and their style. If PSG can win the first two, not only will a second consecutive league title be secured, but it also gets arguably the two most difficult games out of the way.
Lille may sit third in the table but, by the time the two meet, there will likely be little left to play for. The same can be said of Coupe de France finalists Rennes who are in 13th and pulling clear of the relegation battle, as are 14th placed Montpellier. With three of those five games home encounters, there should be no problem for Blanc's men in starting to formulate a Plan B ahead of next season.
First and foremost, though -- as has been the case since the start of the season -- the result is the most important thing on Wednesday. Particularly against a side that has already tripped the side up once this season.
Win against Evian and only victory at relegation-threatened Sochaux next weekend is needed to confirm French title number four. In order to do that though, all of last weekend's Coupe de la Ligue final celebrations must be forgotten. The League Cup trophy is worth little to Blanc and PSG without the Ligue 1 title to go with it, in what would be the capital club's first ever league and domestic cup double.