PSG's Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani sanctions come at a bad time
The new year has not started smoothly for defending Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain.
After days of speculation over the potential punishments awaiting Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani for missing the capital club's late-December winter tour in Marrakesh, Morocco, the South American pair's punishment is now known.
Branded as "inadmissible and unacceptable behaviour," Le President and the French giants' hierarchy have opted to go for a show of authority. Lavezzi and Cavani will be excluded from training for one week, heavily fined and banned from taking part in either of the team's next two matches. This creates more issues for manager Laurent Blanc.
The first of those two games comes in the Coupe de France on Monday night, away at Montpellier HSC, and PSG will be without six senior players. As well as the Uruguayan and Argentine internationals, goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, midfielder Thiago Motta and attacker Jean-Christophe Bahebeck miss out injured, and right-back Serge Aurier has departed for Africa Cup of Nations duty with the Ivory Coast.
Lavezzi was actually already suspended for the Montpellier clash anyway. Because of this, El Pocho could sit out an additional game -- likely the Coupe de la Ligue quarterfinal away at AS Saint-Etienne next week -- in order to make it an equal punishment for both him and Cavani.
Considering the way that Les Parisiens struggled to a 0-0 draw at home against La Paillade in their final Ligue 1 fixture of 2014, this trip to Altrad Stadium was already going to be difficult. Throw in the distraction of the farce surrounding Lavezzi and Cavani's antics, as well as the fact that PSG are in questionable form of late anyway, and an early cup exit becomes a possibility. Factor in the dreadful state of Montpellier's temporary home surface -- Stade de la Mosson is still being repaired after flood damage -- and that premature departure starts to look even likelier.
Lavezzi and Cavani's sanctions mean that there will be pressure on Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- when is there not? -- to carry this team into the round of 32.
PSG have not fallen at the first hurdle in the Coupe de France since the 1989-90 season, and this campaign is expected to end with at least one visit to Stade de France. For PSG's owners, this trophy is the only remaining domestic silverware to have eluded the capital outfit since Qatar Sports Investments' takeover in 2011, so victory in Montpellier on Monday is imperative.
Playing on a heavily cut-up rugby surface is not ideal for any player; but when someone of Ibrahimovic's importance is nursing an extremely fragile heel problem, their involvement in a game like this one must come into question. But, because of the action taken against Lavezzi and Cavani -- as well as Bahebeck's untimely recurrence of his adductor problem -- the Swede now has to play.
If PSG win and the 33-year-old plays a key role in their triumph, the risk will be hailed as worthwhile. Should Ibrahimovic play and aggravate his heel problem again, though, the effect on the French champions' season could be terminal.
Considering how he has been playing within himself lately, not to mention the fact that he was made to play for a full 90 minutes in the 1-0 friendly win over Inter Milan in Marrakesh last week, relying so heavily on the PSG No. 10 here appears to be an extremely risky move.
Montpellier were defensively brilliant at Parc des Princes in the goalless draw a few weeks ago, and the likes of Ibrahimovic and Lucas Moura will have their work cut out in trying to penetrate their opponent's back line.
Also at the back of Blanc and his players' minds will be the fact that it was the 2012 Ligue 1 champions who knocked them out of the Coupe de France -- albeit one round later -- last season. This was no easy draw, and plenty is at stake for Les Parisiens ahead of a gruelling schedule in the next few weeks.
PSG have taken a strong line with Lavezzi and Cavani, and it is admirable in a way, but it could also prove to be hugely costly.
The South American pair should, in theory, come back after their enforced exile raring to go and eager to atone for their disappointing behaviour. But in trying to set an example with their treatment of the two misbehaving stars, PSG may well have undermined their chances of achieving one of this season's main objectives -- winning the Coupe de France.
Jonathan Johnson is based in Paris and the voice of PSG TV. He also writes for French Football Weekly. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.