After Montpellier slip-up, PSG need to be extra wary of bottom-dweller Dijon
PARIS -- With another international break now over, Paris Saint-Germain return to domestic duty away at Dijon on Saturday and will be keen to focus on matters on the pitch.
Unai Emery's men are currently three points clear at the Ligue 1 summit ahead of second-placed Monaco's but could find it tough at Stade Gaston Gerard this weekend for a number of reasons.
Firstly, and most obviously, there are rarely dull moments at Parc des Princes these days and an otherwise calm week was shattered on Thursday by the news that PSG chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi is one of the subjects of a criminal case for suspected bribery relating to Qatari-owned beIN Media Group's acquisition of the 2026 and 2030 FIFA World Cup television rights.
Despite disgraced former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke insisting to L'Equipe and Le Monde that Al-Khelaifi should be cleared of any wrongdoing, this sort of controversy will not be going away anytime soon -- even if it is unrelated to PSG and only concerns the Qatari supremo's work with beIN Sports.
On top of the Al-Khelaifi mess and ensuring that his players do not get distracted by what is being said about the capital club off the pitch, Emery must field the right starting XI in Dijon after a draining round of international fixtures -- particularly for the South American contingent.
Although Dijon are 17th in Le Championnat at present and have just six points from eight matches, the French capital outfit were recently held to a goalless draw away at Montpellier and Olivier Dall'Oglio's men could prove to be similarly tricky opponents on their own patch.
Emery has reacted by leaving Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani, Marco Verratti, Layvin Kurzawa and Thiago Motta out of the squad in order avoid rushing them back to action.
"It is important that the injured players focus on recovering and getting better," the Spaniard told journalists at his pre-match news conference on Thursday. "For example, Thiago (Silva) returned from international duty with a little injury and went straight to the training centre -- we hope he will be fine for the next UEFA Champions League match against RSC Anderlecht next Wednesday.
"During the break, we worked with the other players to stay in shape. Now we will fine-tune preparations for Dijon with our internationals. Away matches are always tough and we saw that against Montpellier.
"If a player is unable to play, we will find a solution. For example, Kylian (Mbappe) can play on the right side of the attack or in the middle (Cavani was ultimately not ready in time to be included in the squad). The most important thing is to know what the players are feeling physically, as well as mentally, ahead of the game."
With a Champions League doubleheader against Anderlecht and Le Classique away at Marseille, as well as a visit from Nice, to come in Ligue 1 before the end of the month, it would have been foolish for PSG to take too many risks in Dijon.
Slight injuries to the likes of captain and central defender Silva, left-back Kurzawa and right-back Thomas Meunier (still in the squad) dictate that the likes of Presnel Kimpembe, Dani Alves or Alec Georgen and Yuri Berchiche should start on Saturday.
Players like Julian Draxler could also be utilised to keep somebody like Neymar fresh for Anderlecht and Marseille next week.
It would not hurt Emery to look towards the youth academy for this one and the likes of Georgen and Antoine Bernede have been handed a deserved chance the squad. The former could even be included in the starting XI to keep somebody like Alves in optimum condition for a big coming week.
Regardless of who Emery fields in Dijon this weekend, though, PSG will be strong enough -- on paper -- to get the job done and to come away with all three points.
As Montpellier proved, though, simply putting star players like Mbappe and Cavani on the pitch and rotating elsewhere does not always produce results -- the group must also be motivated.
That said, a pristine Stade Gaston Gerard pitch -- unlike the bobbly Stade de la Mosson turf -- will make PSG's task of getting up for such a relatively mundane assignment that little bit easier.
"Our stunning pitch? We have not spoken about the possibility of destroying the turf (to aid a result against PSG)!" Dall'Oglio joked in his news conference. "It is a billiard (flat, like a billiard table), as usual. We will not be running a tractor over it..."
Despite a combination of weariness, some niggling fitness issues and one of Ligue 1's least appetising fixtures this season, Les Parisiens should still cut the mustard in Dijon this weekend and take maximum points.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.