Already past mid-October and only four teams from Europe’s Big Five leagues remain undefeated: Napoli, Atalanta, Real Madrid, and Paris Saint-Germain.
Of those four, and even though it’s played one more game than the rest, PSG lead the way with 29 total points earned. Not bad for a club that doesn’t know how to escape a never-ending stream of controversial plotlines and dramas.
Consider everything that has been said and written over the past few days. It all peaked last week with the reports of Kylian Mbappe demanding a transfer away from Paris. It (seemingly) ended this past Wednesday with new information about PSG’s willingness to sell Neymar last summer or at least send him out on loan to Newcastle or Chelsea – something that, ultimately, never came to pass.
PSG will face newly promoted AC Ajaccio this Friday as part of Ligue 1’s Matchday12. Of course, one has to guess such an opponent shouldn’t pose a real threat to Christophe Galtier and his men. Only, you know what happened the last time PSG faced another not-quite-great side in the domestic competition away from home at Reims.
The Parisians are coming off a much-needed victory against l’OM in Le Classique last weekend. That game, and the 3 points PSG kept home, might not turn into a title decider if things go according to plan in France. But what happens on the field is only a tiny part of all things surrounding PSG. Defeating their biggest rival (and contender) in the history of the club, on the largest stage and under the brightest lights, was definitely a must to quiet down the deafening narratives and bring some calm to the Parc des Princes – if only for a few days’ time.
Paris Saint-Germain have completed a remarkable run of results through this point in the season. They hope to keep it going tonight at the Stade François Coty in a very familiar clash: Galtier and Jordan, father and son, going against each other while sitting on the benches. The former as the main coach of PSG, the latter as the assistant coach of Ajaccio’s Olivier Pantaloni.
Even with Ajaccio sitting in the expanded, four-team relegation zone with just 8 points in the first 11 games, PSG would do good not underestimating the capabilities of the Corsican side.
Reims (15th in the table with 9 points) held PSG to a goalless draw, and Ajaccio is coming off a 1-1 draw against Troyes following a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Olympique de Marseille on Oct. 8.
Last Sunday marked the return to last season’s 4-3-3 system with four men in the back instead of the oft-used five in Galtier’s preferred formation (three center-backs, two wing-backs). The coach was quick to make it clear that the change “wasn’t linked to absences,” but that, instead, it “came from a real desire to do something else.” He made those remarks conceding that “the last matches have been very sluggish,” although it’s fair to wonder if a negative result against OM would have seen the coach share a different view of the change in formation.
Anyway, PSG are still leading the table, and with good reason. Neymar – suspended for tonight’s game after accumulating five yellow cards – leads all players in Ligue 1 with 9 goals (tied with Lille’s Jonathan David) while Lionel Messi and the Brazilian genius top the assists leaderboard with 7 each. Mbappe sits third in the top goalscorers table with 8 goals (none of them from the penalty spot compared to Neymar/David’s two PKs each).
Everything is pointing toward Galtier rotating a couple of players. PSG have named a few youngsters to the matchday squad and although the kids won’t get heavy minutes against Ajaccio, there is at least a chance they get to the pitch late in the game if things are going well for the Parisian.
With Neymar out and unavailable, Galtier will have to choose between using Mbappe at the top of the forward line with Pablo Sarabia one level deeper along with Messi, or using Mbappe on a left-wing/false-9 role next to Messi with the young striker (and former Reims’ prospect) Hugo Ekitike leading the team.
Vitinha didn’t train on Thursday but made the list for the game, though he is expected to start on the bench tonight with Marco Verratti and Fabian Ruiz repeating their appearance on the starting lineup along with the returning Renato Sanches (whose most recent game came on a 16-minute outing against Nice on Oct. 10 with no playing time between that game and the one against Juventus on Sep. 6).
Gigio Donnarumma will be on the Parisian goal while the defensive line will feature Hakimi and Bernat on the flanks (Nuno Mendes is still out) while Marquinhos and Nordi Mukiele are expected in the center of the defense (Sergio Ramos is completing the second game of his two-match ban while Danilo and Presnel Kimpembe are still recovering from injury).
A win tonight would help PSG reach 32 points approaching the first third of the Ligue 1 season and put the Parisian 6 points clear of second-place Lorient pending their game this weekend (Sunday vs. Troyes) and 9 over OM.
With the qualification to the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 still pending, Galtier surely has a point when it comes to instilling a win-early mentality in his pupils. PSG need to start wrapping up the domestic campaign as soon as possible so they can focus on their European run to finally, once and for all, lift the Champions League when all is said and done.