PSG must force errors from Monaco to reestablish domestic dominance
PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain have entered into a decisive week in terms of their domestic ambitions, with a Coupe de France semifinal at home to AS Monaco on Wednesday and a Ligue 1 trip to OGC Nice on Sunday.
By this time next week, the French champions' season could be as good as over with hopes of an incredible third consecutive domestic clean sweep dead. However, those hopes could equally still be alive and kicking if Unai Emery's men can beat their two strongest rivals on the home front.
A 2-0 win over Montpellier HSC at Parc des Princes last Saturday put pressure on Monaco ahead of their clash away at Olympique Lyonnais 24 hours later, but Leonardo Jardim's men responded with a narrow 2-1 win at Parc OL. Thanks to that result, Les Monegasques are still top of the pile in Le Championnat -- on goal difference -- and have a game in hand against an unpredictable AS Saint-Etienne side to come.
Until then, PSG can only try to apply as much pressure as possible and look to inflict a mental blow on the principality outfit in Paris on Wednesday.
"Our objectives have not changed," Emery told journalists at his pre-match news conference at Camp des Loges on Tuesday. "We are focused on our next match and so our objective is to win the Coupe de France semifinal against Monaco.
"After that, we will think about our clash with Nice and play our remaining matches with a lot of motivation and the objective of winning them all.
"Still, it is clear that Monaco are very strong. We will just keep doing our thing without worrying about what the others are doing."
Even if Saint-Etienne can do Les Parisiens a favour by winning at Stade Louis II in the penultimate match of the season, the men from the capital will still require help from elsewhere as ASM's goal difference might as well give them the advantage of an extra point.
The Cote d'Azur outfit's two-legged UEFA Champions League semifinal against Juventus could also play into PSG's hands, but in order for that to happen, Emery's men need to win their remaining games -- with the two toughest taking place this week.
"Monaco are having a great season," insisted Emery. "They have good players. We have shown that we can beat them out on the pitch, as we did in the Coupe de la Ligue.
"If we are not at 100 percent, we could lose. It is a huge challenge that awaits us this midweek -- proving that we are also a great team."
On paper, PSG have a significant advantage on Wednesday. Not only are they at home, Jardim has already revealed that he is likely to field a starting XI mainly made up of peripheral figures and reserve players.
The defending Coupe de France champions can afford to rotate a little but Emery is wary of such a motivated Monaco side with the finish line in sight and continental -- as well as domestic -- glory still to be had.
"I am expecting Monaco to give their very best," Emery announced. "They are having a great season in Ligue 1, the Champions League, the Coupe de la Ligue and the Coupe de France. This will be a very difficult match for us but a very important one. Jardim will play his best players.
"The Coupe de France is important for us. It is the 100th edition of the competition and PSG have won it the same number of times as Marseille (a joint-record 10). Winning is very important for us.
"It is a semifinal, at home, in front of our own supporters and against Monaco. It is the best possible match to be playing."
With only fragile playmaker Javier Pastore and marauding ex-Monegasque left-back Layvin Kurzawa likely to be missing, PSG will not be at absolute full strength. However, considering ASM's likely absentees, the capital club will still probably boast the stronger of the two teams on the pitch.
The question at this moment in time is how badly do Emery's men want this? They almost let things slip away at FC Metz last week and only a late Blaise Matuidi header saved them from total embarrassment.
A weakened Monaco side should present the perfect opportunity for Les Parisiens to dish out a pummelling but will that lessen the hosts' appetite? One thing is for sure: if it does, then they run the risk of seeing a potentially salvageable end of season slip away in front of them in the next few days.
PSG simply must beat both Jardim's men and Lucien Favre's Nice and then hope Juventus, Saint-Etienne, Toulouse, AS Nancy-Lorraine, Lille OSC and Stade Rennais can all conspire to trip up the Portuguese tactician and his players in the next few weeks.
It is a long shot and will require plenty of luck, but nothing would be worse for Emery and his players than messing up this week and then seeing Monaco slip up the next. PSG need to force an error from the principality outfit and these next few days present the best opportunity for that.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.