PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain return to Ligue 1 to defend their 100 percent record against struggling Toulouse on Saturday but all eyes in the French capital are on whether star attackers Neymar and Kylian Mbappe will be ready for Liverpool on Wednesday.
The pair were both injured during friendlies in the international break, and are now in a race against time to recover for the Parisians’ huge Champions League clash with the Reds at the Parc des Princes.
PSG said on Wednesday that both players would be put under observation for 48 hours after Brazilian Neymar strained a muscle in his groin and France international Mbappe suffered a shoulder contusion in their countries’ respective friendly wins over Cameroon and Uruguay.
The French champions are running away with Ligue 1, a full 13 points ahead of their nearest rivals Lille after as many games, and with Toulouse languishing in 15th place coach Thomas Tuchel looks likely to rest both Neymar and Mbappe ahead of the visit of the Group C rivals.
Toulouse coach Alain Casanova was candid about his team’s chances in Paris, despite the potential absence of PSG’s two star attackers.
The capital club are averaging nearly 3.5 goals a league game and have conceded just seven in their 13 straight wins. Between them Neymar and Mbappe have scored 21 of PSG’s 45 goals, with striker Edinson Cavani adding another eight.
But Toulouse haven’t won since the start of September and are just three points ahead of third-bottom Dijon, and Casanova seemed in little doubt as to the destination of both the three points this weekend and the league title.
“PSG would win the league easily even without Mbappe and Neymar,” said Casanova.
“They already beat Saint-Etienne 4-0 without either of them. We need to be realistic: it’s a very difficult task that awaits us and I’m not going to pull the wool over my players’ eyes.”
– Knife edge –
With traditional domestic rivals Monaco, Lyon and Marseille miles off the pace, PSG are turning their attentions to Europe, where they have flattered to deceive since being taking over by Qatari Sports Investments in 2011 and where the club’s true ambitions lie.
They head into Wednesday’s clash with Liverpool third in the tightest group in the Champions League, just a point behind both leaders Liverpool and Napoli and the same amount ahead of bottom club Red Star Belgrade.
With two games to go qualification is on a knife edge, with all four teams gunning for the last 16, and a win over Jurgen Klopp’s team would give PSG a huge advantage over Wednesday’s opponents going into the final matchday, when Liverpool and Napoli face off at Anfield and PSG take on Red Star in Serbia.
Neymar and Mbappe could also be rested amid rumours of a row between the Brazilian and Cavani, after the Uruguayan sliced down his strike partner during their countries’ friendly last week.
Talk of a rift between the pair has persisted ever since Neymar arrived in France, and those rumours intensified after Cavani chucked the ball at and appeared to insult the Brazil number 10 in the aftermath of the foul.
However both Cavani and Mbappe denied their was a problem between the two following France’s 1-0 win over Uruguay on Tuesday.
“I sent Neymar a video of his clash with Edinson via WhatsApp and he just laughed in response, so that says it all. It was nothing,” said Mbappe.
“This will not stop them from hugging and making up at PSG and then scoring goals together… There is no problem.”
Friday sees fierce local rivals and Champions League contenders Lyon and Saint-Etienne face off in a bubbling hot derby.
Fifth-placed Saint-Etienne, who are just one point behind Lyon, travel 60 kilometres up the road without their fans afer a series of crowd trouble incidents involving supporters.
Lyon v Saint-Etienne (2000)
Paris Saint-Germain v Toulouse (1600), Caen v Monaco, Dijon v Bordeaux, Nantes v Angers, Reims v Guingamp, Strasbourg v Nimes (1900)
Montpellier v Rennes (1400), Nice v Lille (1600), Amiens v Marseille (2000)