Paris Saint-Germain’s preparations for Sunday’s huge Ligue 1 clash with AS Monaco were dealt a blow on Friday when it emerged that midfielder Marco Verratti is suffering from a calf injury.
The issue has ruled the Italy international out of the mammoth encounter in Paris and coach Unai Emery must now cope without him for what is undoubtedly the biggest domestic match of the season for both sides.
Even with the pugnacious Verratti in the squad, Monaco were always going to be a tough challenge for the capital outfit. After all, the last time any PSG side beat their principality rivals in Ligue 1 was back in February 2007.
Emery must find a way to cope without a prodigiously talented player, key regardless of his form, who has really been hitting his stride over the past few weeks. The question of Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League also comes to mind, but before that, PSG have to deal with the challenge at hand: stopping an insatiable Monaco side from scoring against a solid — of late — rearguard.
Adrien Rabiot will almost certainly deputise for Verratti, even though he should be starting pretty much every match now that he is fit again, a change that makes it more likely Emery keeps Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi in his starting XI.
The experience of the pair is undeniable, but in order to beat Leonardo Jardim’s vibrant and well-drilled side, Emery needs to think outside the box. Going with Motta and Matuidi, two predictable players at the best of times, is not exactly innovation at its finest.
Instead, Emery appears ready to put his faith in continuity and the recent upturn in form that his squad have been enjoying.
“We want to maintain team spirit, regardless of who is on the pitch,” said Emery during his prematch news conference at Camp des Loges. “We know that the players all have different qualities. Above all, we want to maintain the rhythm and level of our play.
“We cannot rely on the same players all the time. We know certain players will get injured during the season. We have to be able to cope with those absences; you never know what can happen. Adrien could be a solution in [Verratti’s] position. We have solutions.”
Verratti is not the only player missing. Injury prone but inventive playmaker Javier Pastore is still out, while Serge Aurier, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Giovani Lo Celso and Jese Rodriguez are also absent.
It is a shame Emery is missing so many players in certain areas of the pitch, because PSG have been finding form lately and Monaco are a real acid test of their midseason revival under the confidence guru manager. The strength in depth afforded to the Basque tactician means a win is still a possibility, but considering Monaco’s unstoppable form at times this campaign and good record in Paris, it will not come easy.
Emery knows it is a golden chance for PSG to land a big blow in the race for Le Championnat, but the 45-year-old does not think Sunday’s meeting will decide who will be crowned French kings in May.
“A little over halfway through the season, they have shown a lot of consistency,” said Emery of Monaco. “They are leaders, the team to beat. There are three points at stake, three important points but it is not necessarily decisive. There are a lot of games left.
“I am confident when I see the players, how they are, I know they are focused. They will give everything here.”
Since a 5-0 thrashing of FC Lorient ended 2016 in style, PSG have been in increasingly good form and excellent defensively. Girondins de Bordeaux’s consolation strike in a 4-1 thumping in midweek was the first goal the defending champions have conceded in 2017.
The squad have turned a corner since a 2-1 humiliation at EA Guingamp late last year and ever since then, it has been a question of working toward this Monaco match. Emery now feels that the players are starting to find form at the right time.
“Our work is to try and be as consistent as possible,” said the former Sevilla boss. “We are demanding with the players in order to get them to produce good performances time and again.
“It is good to win, to gain in confidence but we have to keep demanding that the work is done well to do even better in the next game.”
Assuming that the only major change to Emery’s starting XI is Rabiot replacing Verratti, PSG against Monaco should make for an entertaining encounter.
With Julian Draxler only just back from injury and the pressure on both Angel Di Maria and Lucas Moura since his arrival, Rabiot’s inclusion is not the only difficult decision for Emery. Only brave moves from the PSG coach will be enough to beat Monaco, so it is up to him to outsmart the canny Jardim.
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