PSG won't risk Ibrahimovic and Silva vs. Lille ahead of Chelsea clash
The moment has almost arrived for Paris Saint-Germain, with the return of Champions League action on Tuesday when Chelsea visit Parc des Princes in the round of 16. However, before that, the Ligue 1 leaders must take care of Lille OSC in the capital.
Les Parisiens' 2-1 win at Olympique de Marseille in Le Classique last weekend stretched their record unbeaten streak to 34 matches and that tally could be under threat against Les Dogues on Saturday.
With Chelsea just around the corner, Laurent Blanc -- who will be celebrating his recent two-year contract extension -- is expected to heavily rotate his starting XI against Frederic Antonetti's strugglers, and doing so could make PSG vulnerable.
Le President has already decided that he can do without star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic, captain Thiago Silva, influential midfielder Thiago Motta and veteran left-back Maxwell -- as well as China-bound Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Hosting LOSC at Parc des Princes helps the capital club, but Saturday's clash could still easily turn into a banana skin if the visitors turn up and play. Blanc needs to strike the right balance, because if not handled correctly, the 50-year-old's team could suffer a repeat of last season's injury-hit 2-2 draw at home to Caen on the eve of a visit from Chelsea.
After racing into a 2-0 half-time lead last February, PSG were forced to make all three changes because of injuries and lost two more players when there were no more substitutions available. The nine men were unable to hold on to their lead and Patrice Garande's men ended up scoring two late goals to secure a surprise 2-2 draw.
Although the French champions knocked out Chelsea over the two legs, the injuries suffered in the Caen draw took their toll and contributed to PSG's exit at the hands of Barcelona in the quarterfinals.
To avoid a similar event happening against Lille, Blanc is taking as few risks on key men as possible. The Frenchman has left senior figures Ibrahimovic, Silva, Motta and Maxwell to rest, meaning that it is a largely youthful workforce that will be tackling Lille.
A few players will also be making timely returns from injury in the hope of proving themselves fit to face Chelsea next week. Marco Verratti, Javier Pastore and Gregory van der Wiel are all back after significant periods out of action.
The returns Verratti and Pastore are welcome boosts for a team that has struggled for creativity in midfield lately, while Van der Wiel's availability means that Serge Aurier should get some deserved rest after a demanding recent run of starts.
All three probably won't start against Les Dogues, but just to have them back in the squad in time for a test run before Chelsea is a big bonus for Blanc. Provided things go smoothly on Saturday, the former France and Bordeaux tactician should have a full-strength squad to choose from in Europe next week.
PSG thumped Lille 6-1 toward the end of last season on their way to a first-ever domestic clean sweep. The same is unlikely to happen Saturday, but considering the circumstances, many will be happy with a draw as it would enable Les Parisiens to keep their unbeaten run in Ligue 1 alive.
This match will also give both sides an idea of what they can expect when they meet at Stade de France in April for the Coupe de la Ligue final, when the first significant piece of domestic silverware is on the line.
Jonathan Johnson is based in Paris and the voice of PSG TV. He also writes for French Football Weekly. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.