PSG must grind out another win in Metz to keep the pressure on Monaco
PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain have the chance to put Ligue 1 title rivals AS Monaco under pressure again when they take on FC Metz away on Tuesday.
Both the reigning champions and Monaco have played one match less than most of their opponents in Le Championnat because of the Coupe de la Ligue final at the start of the month, but Unai Emery's squad will play their match in hand at Stade Saint-Symphorien this midweek.
A gritty 2-0 win away at Angers SCO last Friday was sprinkled with some Angel Di Maria genius to pull PSG level on points with Monaco at the Ligue 1 summit, but Leonardo Jardim's men responded with an equally gritty, Radamel Falcao-inspired 2-1 home win over Dijon FCO 24 hours later.
Speaking with journalists at his pre-match news conference ahead of the Metz clash, Emery admitted he and his troops can only apply further pressure on the principality outfit and that the rest is out of their hands.
"Another week has gone by and the gap on the table has not changed," said the manager at Camp des Loges on Monday. "We have the chance to draw level on points -- provisionally -- with Monaco but we must not focus on them, nor on Nice, who are still in the race.
"We have to prepare well so we can play good football and get the three points in Metz. After that, we will be able to look a bit further ahead to our next match, against Montpellier.
"We need to stay focused. All the matches we have left to play will be difficult ones against sides who also need points in order to achieve their objectives."
Monaco have been expected to fade for some time as a result of their extended UEFA Champions League commitments, which could be further prolonged if they see off Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of their quarterfinal tie on Wednesday, but said fatigue has not yet materialised.
As one of Ligue 1's strongest sides and the current league leaders, Emery does not expect tiredness to become a factor for Monaco and instead suggested that PSG's title hopes lie with the teams still to face Les Monegasques.
"Whether it is Monaco, Nice or us, everyone is used to playing a lot of matches," said Emery. "Fatigue can be a factor, but the big teams are prepared to suffer and play through it.
"Once again, we are playing against sides who need points, be it to beat the drop or for whatever other reason, and it is up to us to take the upper hand and make the right adjustments to stay in the title race until the very end."
Based on current form and taking into account their Coupe de la Ligue final thrashing of Monaco, PSG are the team to beat domestically. However, their sluggish form over the first half of the season looks like it might cost them in the race for the crown in Ligue 1.
Emery wants his players to keep their current form going, for regardless of the outcome of this campaign's title race, the team and the club are continuing to build in strength.
"I think the team feels good -- the second half of the season reflects that," said Emery. "We demand the very best in order to have consistent performances. We have to think about work and what we need to improve on every day. We have to constantly think about these things and look to improve.
"The club is solid and continues to grow. The team is playing very well and feeling better and better. We know what we have to do in order to stay on this track -- keep this positive frame of mind and maintain this dynamic."
The performance in Metz does not matter, the only thing that counts at this stage is taking all three points from the match. Even if PSG win, Monaco's goal difference means that even one point taken from their game in hand effectively becomes two.
Making things slightly more challenging for Emery and his squad in Metz are the absences of regular starters Julian Draxler and Layvin Kurzawa, as well as peripheral figures Hatem Ben Arfa and Grzegorz Krychowiak.
As long as the likes of Di Maria, Edinson Cavani and Javier Pastore can shine in attack and returning captain Thiago Silva can keep a disciplined defence tight, the men from the capital should have more than enough to see off Philippe Hinschberger's team.
Assuming they do, the Ligue 1 calendar could finally tell in PSG's favour. A win in Metz will keep Monaco under duress heading into this weekend and three more points against Montpellier HSC at Parc des Princes on Saturday could potentially take Emery's men top.
Their title rivals from the French Riviera would then need to win away at Olympique Lyonnais on Sunday to close the gap on the capital club ahead of their remaining game in hand against AS Saint-Etienne.
Maybe, just maybe, there is still hope for PSG's fifth consecutive Ligue 1 crown -- the first time it will have been done since the dominant Lyon side of the early 2000s -- and perhaps this season's chase is about to take a potentially defining twist this week.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.