PSG must beware old foes Lyon in deceptive encounter

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

John Berry/Getty ImagesPSG boss Laurent Blanc will bring a strong side into the Champions League knockout stage.

Paris Saint-Germain prepare to host old rivals Olympique Lyonnais on Sunday in a battle of France's formerly most powerful side and the country's new preeminent force. The Parc des Princes will see Laurent Blanc's men -- unbeaten in 35 matches across all competitions -- welcome a rejuvenated OL side, but one still struggling to come to terms with their fall from grace in recent years.

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Remi Garde's side travel to the French capital looking to overturn a poor run of form that has seen them lose four of their last five games in Paris. But Les Gones are enjoying an upturn in recent form, winning two of their last Ligue 1 matches and three of their last five if you include the Europa League as well. Despite their well-documented financial struggles though, there is still plenty of quality in this Lyon side and there is a very real danger that PSG could get complacent ahead of this clash. The Rhone-based club are situated in seventh place at present, 15 points behind the defending champions and 10 behind AS Monaco who currently occupy the third and final Champions league qualification spot. However, they still have considerable talent in the likes of Bafetimbi Gomis, Maxime Gonalons, Clement Grenier, Alexandre Lacazette, Samuel Umtiti and the much-maligned, but unpredictable genius of Yoann Gourcuff. It is a team capable of better than what their league position currently suggests.

This PSG encounter represents the perfect time for this misfiring team to really show what they are capable of. Also in the side is Milan Bisevac, a former Parisian player, and one of Qatar Sports Investments' first signings before making a hasty, yet somewhat unfair, departure. Lyon have plenty to play for and Blanc's side must not underestimate this, not least the motivating factor of having had to watch PSG celebrate a first title in 19 years on their own Stade Gerland pitch back in May.

However, the French champions are in excellent form and secured their safe passage into the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday with a hard fought 2-1 win over Greek side Olympiakos. The win sees PSG top Group C, but Blanc will want to see plenty of improvement from that performance as well as a heavy dose of discipline following the difficulties caused by Marco Verratti's red card in midweek.

Le President will be wary of the dangers in heavily rotating his squad once again, having made a host of changes in Europe after resting a number of starts for last week's 3-0 win away at Stade de Reims. However, Ezequiel Lavezzi's disappointing showing on Wednesday will likely result in at least one change being made. Lucas Moura's impressive recent form will surely see him return to the side at the Argentine's expense, although Jeremy Menez would no doubt dearly love to face Lyon again after scoring PSG's title-sealing goal at the Gerland in May.

Otherwise, Blanc faces a slight dilemma in that Christophe Jallet played extremely well against Reims last time out and will be pushing for a start. Thiago Silva is also now back to full fitness meaning that newly-capped Brazilian international Marquinhos could start to feature more regularly at the expense of senior compatriot Alex. Blaise Matuidi's slight viral problem could force a late change in the midfield if he is not fit enough to start, although Adrien Rabiot would provide more than sufficient cover.

On paper, it is a match that PSG should win comfortably. But given the history of the two sides' an the importance of this fixture in seasons' past, it will not be like facing an average mid-table Championnat opponent. The capital side were almost caught out in recent weeks against RSC Anderlecht and then Olympiakos in the Champions League, having arguably approached both games with a sense of overconfidence born out of their rich vein of form on the continent. The same can be said of their dominant league results and the self-belief that will have created, although there has been little or no hint of arrogance in any of the Parisians' league performances so far.

Blanc must ensure that his PSG side do not relinquish a large part of their comfortable four-point lead over the chasing pack no sooner than it has been established.


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