Rain is liquid precipitation. Water falling from the sky. When it rains, it pours. And water knows no boundaries. When it rains in Paris, that goes both ways. In relation to Paris Saint-Germain, that means that as much as the magnificent offensive trio usually keeps up with the goalscoring, the defensive line can’t prevent goals to save their lives.
That is why PSG won their last Ligue 1 outing against Troyes last Saturday. That is, also, why PSG had to score four goals in order to earn that victory with ESTAC dumping three on them.
The final 4-3 result is the clearest example of PSG’s current cloth: fibers of delightfully orchestrated attack intertwined with threads full of defensive holes.
In the last two weeks, from Saturday backward, PSG scored 15 goals. That is, as ridiculous as it sounds, more than one goal per day. Had the team staged as many matches as days during that span, they could have probably won most of them with a one-goal advantage already guaranteed.
In those two weeks, though, some concerns have been raised. In fact, not even in the last two weeks, but just in a span of five days alone (from last Tuesday’s UCL affair with Maccabi through Saturday’s Ligue 1 meeting) PSG conceded five goals. Again, against Europa League-at-best Maccabi Haifa and 12th-place Troyes.
PSG still remain one of just two (along with Napoli) unbeaten teams in all competitions. PSG have the most points (35) in their domestic league out of those playing in any of Europe’s Big 5 leagues. PSG have the most goals for (36) and the joint-third-fewest goals against (8).
Things have been different in the Champions League for PSG. Of course, Paris still lead the way in Group H (albeit tied with Benfica at 11 points each) but they have conceded six goals in five games, tied for the most GA among group leaders through the fifth match day. Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have kept things going for Paris scoring all 12 goals the French side has bagged. That brings no trouble. A leaky defensive line sure does.
Things will go smoothly in France as challengers will devour each other diminishing their chances at catching PSG and ultimately falling for the title race at one point or another. PSG already sit first (35) with a five-point lead over second place Lens (30). Early-season contender and long-time foe Olympique Marseille (24) have already fallen by the wayside currently 11 points separated from PSG. You get the idea.
The UEFA Champions League, though, is an entirely different beast.
PSG are entering the final game of the group stages on Wednesday facing an absolutely ravaged and depleted Juventus squad in much more need of a positive result than the Parisian.
Juventus will miss so many players that you could actually build a starting XI out of them and still compete (on paper, at least) with the best: Danilo is suspended for a game; De Sciglio, Di Maria, Paredes, Vlahovic and Bremer are out recovering from injuries; long-term-ousted Pogba, Chiesa, Kaio Jorge and Marley Ake will remain there; and Weston McKennie along with Iling-Junior joined the group as recently as last weekend.
The starting XI from Juventus won’t suffer much when it comes to world-renowned names present in it. Your Szczesnys, Bonnuccis, Locatellis, and Miliks will all be there. The bench, though, is going to read like a row of the smoothest Sicilian pizza bakers: Pinsoglio, Rugani, Perin, and Fagioli among them.
Juventus find themselves in the same situation as Paris Saint-Germain entering the last of the group stage: locked into a tie with the other team fighting for their goal and needing a win to, in the case of the Italians, drop to the Europa League knockout stages instead of going out of European altogether in favor of Maccabi Haifa.
PSG will need to at least replicate whatever Benfica does against the Israel club. Paris won’t have Neymar available after he picked up his third yellow card against Maccabi last week and got a one-game suspension. Carlos Soler is the man expected to cover for that absence after a good outing against Troyes last Saturday (he earned PSG the penalty that ultimately served his team the victory) and an ongoing run of games in which he’s steadily improved his levels on the pitch.
Bad news for Pablo Sarabia and Hugo Ekitike. The former is now more out than in Christophe Galtier’s plans; the Spaniard logged 170 minutes over the three games PSG drew in early October even getting two starts in that span but he’s now played just 46 minutes in the last four games combined. The latter has yet to prominently feature once after arriving on loan (with a must-buy clause to be executed next June) this summer having started just one game all season and not even making it to the 60-minute mark.
The defensive line, the most concerning one of a team so fluid that drops goals as minutes go by, is the focus of PSG ahead of the World Cup break and the part of the squad in more urgent need of fixing.
Presnel Kimpembe came back from a six-week absence against Maccabi and logged 70 minutes between that and the game against Troyes. Too bad for the World Cup champion, he picked up an Achilles injury in the training session ahead of the game against Juventus and he’s now back on the shelf and potentially missing the trip to Qatar with France.
Galtier would have loved to have the first-world problem of picking two players for the CB positions among three top-tier talents including Marquinhos and Sergio Ramos, but he will now have to (once more) conform with the latter two and a makeshift center-back in Danilo.
The middle of the pitch, now featuring three players as part of the fresh-but-already-established 4-3-3 formation, will probably comprise the oft-used Marco Verratti, Vitinha and Fabian Ruiz.
Danilo is back at training and in this Wednesday’s squad but is not expected to play. Nuno Mendes and Hakimi should return to their respective flanks in exchange for natural-substitute Juan Bernat and Nordi Mukiele.
Three games remain on the schedule for PSG before the World Cup, two in a row away from the Parc des Princes starting Wednesday against Juventus and ending next Sunday in Lorient’s Stade du Moustoir before returning home for the pre-WC finale against Auxerre on Nov. 13. Some things must change between now and then, and strengthening a poorly-performing defense should be one of them.