With Neymar and Kylian Mbappe finally both fit and playing in the same team, the pressure is on Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel to get his all-star attack firing on all cylinders going into the second half of the season.
Injuries and off-field issues had prevented the two most expensive players on the planet from starting a game together this season until PSG’s 2-0 midweek over Nantes which kept the reigning champions five points clear at the top of Ligue 1.Both players duly scored, with Mbappe’s backheel opener being followed by a Neymar penalty, but PSG were sluggish, and not for the first time in recent weeks.
In fact, the capital side — who go to Montpellier on Saturday — have not impressed since beating Marseille 4-0 at the end of October.
“Maybe it’s just in our heads — because we are afraid of losing the ball, we end up losing the ball,” admitted Tuchel.
“We need to think about winning, about building attacks, creating chances. It is clear that we need to improve, get our intensity back.”
In the meantime PSG are winning games. They are top of Ligue 1 and have won their Champions League group before next week’s final game at home to Galatasaray.
However, they have often been reliant on goalkeeper Keylor Navas in recent weeks and Tuchel needs to find the right blend in attack.Beyond Mbappe and Neymar, the excellent Angel Di Maria perhaps deserves a rest, while Mauro Icardi could return to the line-up this weekend.
Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani — the club’s all-time record goal-scorer — continues to be left with the crumbs. On Wednesday he got four minutes off the bench. The Uruguayan has not started a game since August.
“The situation is super difficult for him, I know,” Tuchel said.
“It is not just hard, it’s sad. Icardi has been very good and we have three extraordinary players for one position in Kylian, Mauro and Edinson. I don’t have the solution.
“He knows what I think and he accepts it.”
Whoever starts up front on Saturday, PSG will have to find a way past a Montpellier defence marshalled by the indefatigable Vitorino Hilton, still going strong at 42, if they are to become the first visitors to win at the Stade de la Mosson since the opening weekend of the season.
Player to watch: Josh Maja
The English-born Nigerian international striker had a slow start in France after signing for Bordeaux from Sunderland back in January.
He had scored just twice in 19 Ligue 1 appearances until last weekend, when he netted with a brilliant backheel in a 1-1 draw at Reims.
Maja followed that on Tuesday by bagging a hat-trick, and providing an assist, as Bordeaux crushed struggling Nimes 6-0.
Now the 20-year-old will be hoping to continue that form when Paulo Sousa’s team, in third, head to second-placed Marseille on Sunday night.
5 – Marseille have won five games on the bounce to emerge as the closest challenger to Paris Saint-Germain. It is their best sequence since winning eight in a row in 2014 when Marcelo Bielsa was at the helm.
5 – Five is also the number of points separating leaders PSG from Marseille in second, Marseille from Bordeaux in third, and Bordeaux from Monaco in 13th.
3 – PSG have not won any of their last three visits to Montpellier, losing twice and drawing once. Montpellier won 3-2 when the teams last met in April.
Fixtures (all kick-offs GMT)
Lille v Brest (1800), Nimes v Lyon (1945)
Montpellier v Paris Saint-Germain (1630), Monaco v Amiens, Nice v Metz, Rennes v Angers, Strasbourg v Toulouse (all 1900)
Reims v Saint-Etienne (1400), Nantes v Dijon (1600), Marseille v Bordeaux (2000)