Paris Saint-Germain welcome Olympique Lyonnais to Parc des Princes on Sunday with Kylian Mbappe likely to miss the clash due to the foot injury which he picked up in midweek against Club Brugge in the UEFA Champions League.
Although the French superstar is not expected to miss too much action, his unavailability this weekend would already throw a spanner in the works for head coach Mauricio Pochettino as he seeks a way to get Lionel Messi and Neymar on the same page as Mbappe.
With Marco Verratti also expected to remain absent through injury, the Argentine tactician will be grateful to have compatriot Angel Di Maria and Idrissa Gueye making their returns as both were missed in Belgium on Wednesday.
Gueye brings the ball-winning presence which PSG too often lack in midfield when he is unavailable while Di Maria brings creativity and attacking threat further forward which was in short supply without him at Jan Breydel Stadium.
Lyon at home is a first real domestic test for Pochettino and his players this term with Manchester City to come in the Champions League before the end of this month, yet the former Tottenham Hotspur boss is not even close to knowing his strongest XI and favored system yet.
This is not a total surprise considering PSG’s summer business, which saw Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum, Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes join Messi in the French capital, but it is worrying that Pochettino has been in charge since the start of 2021 and that no clear style has emerged.
The pre-existing chemistry between Messi, Neymar and Di Maria should help to solve the disconnect in attack somewhat while Gueye brings the combativity in the middle which PSG needed as they were overrun there against Club Brugge.
If Mendes gets the nod on the left side of the defense after two encouraging cameo displays against Clermont Foot and again in Belgium, that could be a third area of improvement after the draw in Bruges which represents a slow start in Champions League Group A considering City’s goal-fest at home to RB Leipzig.
The main worry, though, is that it is one less opportunity to get Mbappe to click with Messi and Neymar and arguably the best match in terms of preparation for a massive UCL night against City at Parc des Prince later this month.
PSG have been largely fine without Messi and Neymar so far this season and have 15 points from a possible 15 to sit four points clear at the top of the early season table with Angers SCO the surprise name behind Les Parisiens in the standings.
A strong reaction to losing out on the Ligue 1 title to Lille OSC last season was to be expected but dominating on the domestic front has always been within PSG’s capabilities with or without their main men — getting right on the continental scene is of utmost importance and this impairs preparation for that.
Lyon will give the capital club a sterner test than most in Le Championnat can and if they continue to gel under Peter Bosz’s leadership, they could yet emerge as challengers for the title further down the line and with Mbappe out of the equation, Pochettino must focus on Messi and Neymar with Di Maria unavailable against City and RB Leipzig.
With Neymar ghosting through matches at present, now is the perfect time for Messi to stamp his mark on the attack without Mbappe to potentially impede that and if the legendary Argentine can do so, he will likely rely heavily upon Neymar and Di Maria thus getting them more involved too.
Mbappe will not have too much trouble adapting to the attack if it starts to function without him but getting it up and running is the challenge and perhaps it is for the best as part of the bigger picture that the French superstar is unavailable here.