After making an inconsistent start to its title defense last season, Paris Saint-Germain vowed to start strong this time amid fears that a difficult domestic campaign would impact the club’s Champions League ambitions.
PSG was often stretched last season as it battled until April before reaching top spot. That meant coach Laurent Blanc could not rest players before European games, and PSG looked leg-weary and lackluster when it lost a one-sided quarterfinal against Barcelona.
Blanc’s players have clearly got the message this time, winning the first four league games of the season without conceding a goal to take a strong early grip on the title race.
Friday’s home game against Bordeaux may see Blanc rest one or two players prior to Tuesday’s Champions League opener against Malmo.
Here are some things to know about this weekend’s games in the French league:
Angel Di Maria could make his first PSG start since joining from Manchester United.
The Argentina winger, who cost 63 million euros ($69 million) when he joined last month after an unhappy season with United, has made only one substitute appearance so far for PSG.
He made an immediate impact with a brilliant first-time pass for countryman Ezequiel Lavezzi in a 3-0 win at Monaco on Aug. 30.
Exempt from Argentina’s recent friendlies against Bolivia and Mexico, Di Maria has been working on his fitness and Friday’s match should give coach Laurent Blanc an idea as to whether he’ll be sharp enough to face Malmo in the Champions League on Tuesday.
BLAISE OF GOALS
There is no stopping Blaise Matuidi at the moment.
The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder is in the best form of his career. Having scored two goals and created two more in PSG’s opening four wins of the league campaign, Matuidi netted both goals for France in Monday night’s 2-1 win against Serbia.
The second goal, where he leaned back and hit a blistering volley from 25 yards, was so good that it drew comparisons with Zinedine Zidane’s volley for Real Madrid in the 2002 Champions League final.
At least it might stop Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of 106 goals in 131 games for PSG, from making fun of Matuidi’s finishing skills.
“He teases me a lot about it, but it’s really good-natured,” Matuidi said. “If my shots hit the stands in training and they go in during matches, then so much the better.”
Monaco has been in the headlines recently after selling 19-year-old forward Anthony Martial for an estimated 50 million euros ($56 million), with the deal rising to a potential 80 million ($90 million) if Martial reaches his designated targets.
The massive transfer fee raised eyebrows in world football because Martial, with a little more than 50 league games to his name, was largely an unknown quantity outside France.
But for Monaco it was very much business as usual.
Martial’s sale followed those of midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia (Inter Milan), left back Layvin Kurzawa (Paris Saint-Germain), winger Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), and highly-rated center-half Aymen Abdennour.
In other words, the spine of Leonardo Jardim’s team from last season was sold. Including all the bonuses for each deal, Monaco’s summer sales will generate up to 200 million euros ($224 million).
The summer before, Monaco sold James Rodriguez to Real Madrid and loaned Radamel Falcao to Manchester United just one season after buying them.
Whilst Monaco’s finances are healthy, the policy of selling its best players hardly helps its bid to topple Paris Saint-Germain as France’s leading club.
Nabil Fekir’s long-term injury is a massive blow to Lyon’s hopes in the French league and in Europe.
Fekir, voted the French league’s best young player last season, had scored four goals in his first four games so far — including a superb hat-trick away to Caen — heading into the international break.
That earned him a first start for France against Portugal, where he ruptured his knee ligaments early on.
Fekir faces up to six months out, and — with the transfer window closed — coach Hubert Fournier must reshuffle his forward line with the players he has.
That, at least, is good news for Claudio Beauvue, who joined in the summer after impressing for Guingamp last season.
Despite only starting two games, he has already scored twice and should now get a long run in the side.
Midfielder Abou Diaby has trained for the first time since joining from Arsenal.
Diaby’s career has been ravaged by injuries since he broke his ankle nine years ago. So much so that over the past four seasons with Arsenal he played a meager 16 league games, including just one substitute appearance in the past two seasons.
Given his terrible luck with injury, Diaby’s two-year contract includes a pay-as-you-play deal.
Although he came through the training session unscathed, Diaby is not match fit for Sunday’s home game against Bastia.