Real Madrid and Lyon among PSGs toughest tests to start the new year
PARIS — Considering their financial might these days, it is difficult to feel sorry for Paris Saint-Germain about anything.
However, spare the Ligue 1 leaders a thought this January and February as they tackle seven of their first nine matches of 2018 away from their spiritual home of Parc des Princes.
Only Dijon and Montpellier will visit the French capital to face Unai Emery and his men, who face trips to Lyon, Nantes, Lille and — most daunting of all — Madrid to face Real in the Champions League.
Here are five of PSG’s most challenging fixtures coming up over the next six weeks…
Rennes away (Coupe de France) on Sun Jan 7
PSG can usually bank on a relatively simple Coupe de France fixture, often against weaker and not even fully professional opposition, to ease them into the new year.
However, after then Ligue 1 side Bastia last season, it will be fellow Championnat outfit Rennes away this campaign.
On paper, especially having recently won 4-1 away at Roazhon Park in the French top flight, Sabri Lamouchi’s men should pose little — if any — problem.
However, with much of the French giants’ squad consisting of South Americans — who have had to travel a long way to regroup with their teammates — and Edinson Cavani and Javier Pastore not even back in Paris yet, this could be more complicated than the league meeting from just a few weeks ago.
Nantes away (Ligue 1) on Sun Jan 14
Outside of their own defence, only Montpellier’s backline is tighter in Ligue 1 and PSG’s rearguard aside, Nantes are the next meanest at the back.
That did not stop Les Parisiens from sticking four past them back in November but that was at home and Emery’s men also got a bit lucky that day.
Travelling to Stade de la Beaujoire off the back of domestic cup clashes away at Rennes and Amiens will be draining so early in the year and if the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar (MCN) are not at their best for this one, three seemingly straightforward points could turn into one or worse.
Lyon away (Ligue 1) on Sun Jan 21
Second only to Real, this will be PSG’s most testing fixture over these next few weeks.
It might not be the biggest match from the capital club’s point of view but it will be massive for Les Gones, who will want to show their rivals up with their dazzling array of largely homegrown talents, such as Nabil Fekir and Houssem Aouar.
OL are currently level on points with second-placed Monaco and if they can overtake Les Monegasques between now and then, this could be the moment when PSG kill off any lingering hopes for a title race.
Lille away (Ligue 1) on Sat (TBC) Feb 3
PSG beat Lille 3-1 in Ligue 1 just last month, so why is this a difficult game?
Emery and his players did indeed beat a Marcelo Bielsa-less LOSC side then but Les Dogues have since replaced the cult coach with the more consistent Christophe Galtier, who had been free since leaving Saint-Etienne (who have been in free-fall since he left).
New boss syndrome will have probably worn off by the time PSG visit Stade Pierre-Mauroy in early February but that should have given enough time for Galtier to get to grips with his new squad and make a few January personnel changes.
With the Frenchman now at the helm, expect Lille to start climbing the table to make up for the time lost under the charismatic but flawed Bielsa.
Real away (Champions League) on Wed Feb 14
The big one.
There is little left to say about Real vs. PSG that has not already been said.
Put simply, from a Parisien perspective, the season will be on the line at Santiago Bernabeu this Valentine’s Day and then again at Parc des Princes in the return leg on March 6.
Get a good result in Madrid and PSG will be confident of taking care of business in the second.
Fail to do that, though, and the tough start to 2018 could have struck a fatal blow for the remainder of the campaign and a defining setback to Emery’s tenure.
Also take into account that assuming PSG beat Rennes in the Coupe de France and Amiens in the Coupe de la Ligue during this period, two extra matches — both possibly away — will be added to an already busy calendar before Real.
Last season, PSG had played 10 games across all domestic competitions before they thumped Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Valentine’s Day and we all know what happened next…
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.