A Paris Saint-Germain side ostensibly cruising towards another Ligue 1 title resume their quest for glory when Strasbourg visit the Parc des Princes on Wednesday.
Christophe Galtier’s men hold a five-point lead over Lens at the top of the table, while their under-performing visitors are second from bottom after a disastrous first half of the season.
Even with the floodlights at the Parc des Princes shut off for the World Cup, the PSG theme was well and truly alive in Qatar, as Argentina’s Lionel Messi and France’s Kylian Mbappe butted heads in one of the greatest World Cup finals, and indeed football matches, to ever be played.
The man in Albiceleste colours came up trumps to tick off every box on his footballing CV, but international alliances will soon cease for PSG’s World Cup contingent as they return to Camp des Loges with the aim of successfully defending their customary Ligue 1 title.
A 5-0 thumping of Auxerre just before the World Cup break marked PSG’s seventh consecutive win in all competitions to see them maintain their unassailable lead over Lens, with Galtier’s side still unbeaten this season and taking 41 points from 45 on offer in Ligue 1.
Les Parisiens are engaged in a fierce battle with Napoli to become the only side left in Europe’s top five leagues to remain unbeaten, and their two winter friendlies also ended in victory, with a 2-1 win over Paris FC preceding a 3-1 success over Quevilly Rouen.
The reigning French champions could now extend their unbeaten Ligue 1 streak at the Parc des Princes to a remarkable 30 matches since going down 1-0 to Lille in April 2021, and not many will be placing bets on a relegation-threatened Strasbourg team upsetting the apple cart.
Attempting to replicate his unprecedented European feats with Rennes was the goal for Julien Stephan last season, as his Strasbourg side came oh so close to forcing their way into continental contention, but a harsh dose of reality has been inflicted upon them this time around.
With just one win to boast from all of their Ligue 1 games so far this season – a 3-2 triumph versus Angers, the only team below them in the rankings – Strasbourg are living very dangerously indeed and entered the World Cup break without a win in five competitive matches.
Les Coureurs can take pride in holding Marseille and this season’s surprise package Lorient to draws in that sequence, but they are still two points adrift of the safety of 16th place, and their only winter friendly ended in a 1-0 defeat to Feyenoord on December 13.
Strasbourg’s penchant for goals on the road is one of the few positives that their ardent fans can look for ahead of a trip to Paris, as Stephan’s men have scored a respectable nine goals in their last five road fixtures, albeit while conceding 11 at the wrong end of the field.
An end to their six-year run in the top flight could befall the visitors unless results pick up in the New Year, and the hosts have gone unbeaten in their last 10 clashes with Strasbourg in all tournaments since a surprise 2-1 defeat in the 2017-18 campaign.
After achieving the coveted goal of becoming world champion, PSG talisman Messi will take time off until the New Year, but Mbappe has already returned to training alongside Achraf Hakimi, who made history of his own by reaching the semi-finals with Morocco.
Danilo Pereira sustained broken ribs in Portugal training but has been seen with the ball at his feet on PSG’s practice pitches, while Nuno Mendes is still nursing a thigh injury, and the Achilles problem that ruled Presnel Kimpembe out of the World Cup is taking longer to heal than expected. The injury-plagued Renato Sanches is also out with a knock sustained in the friendly with Quevilly-Rouen.
With no Messi available to complete the attacking trifecta with Mbappe and Neymar, Carlos Soler could be given the nod in a more advanced role, unless Galtier opts to take a punt on Hugo Ekitike in the final third.
As for Strasbourg, key defender Alexander Djiku is one of a plethora of France-based players to have been caught up in a recent sports betting scandal, and the Ghanaian defender will serve a one-match ban for a breach of those rules this week.
Djiku’s suspension will at least give him more time to recover from his World Cup exploits with Ghana, and the visitors’ only other Qatar representative was Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, but the 39-year-old is now playing second fiddle to Matz Sels at club level anyway.
PSG loanee Colin Dagba is unlikely to face his parent club because of a calf injury, while 21-year-old playmaker Nordine Kandil is also nursing a foot problem, but Stephan’s squad is otherwise in good shape for the trip to the capital.
Paris Saint-Germain possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Hakimi, Marquinhos, Ramos, Bernat; Verratti, Ruiz, Vitinha; Soler; Neymar, Mbappe
Strasbourg possible starting lineup:
Sels; Pierre-Gabriel, Nyamsi, Perrin, Le Marchand, Delaine; Bellegarde, Aholou; Thomasson; Ajorque, Diallo