PSG travel to Benfica minus resting stars

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

After hitting back spectacularly with a 5-0 home win over Sochaux on Saturday following criticism over their shock defeat at Evian last week, Paris Saint-Germain travel to Portugal Tuesday to face Benfica in their final Champions League Group C encounter.

The French champions arrive in Lisbon short of a number of star names, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Alex among those left at home to rest. Also out of the squad are the suspended Marco Verratti and Gregory van der Wiel.

Laurent Blanc is able to take the luxury of giving some of his star names a breather after PSG confirmed their safe passage into the last 16, as well as top spot in Group C, with a late 2-1 home win over Olympiakos last time out. With the Benfica game a dead rubber, it makes sense given the remaining fixtures on the domestic calendar to take the chance to heavily rotate the side once more.

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The capital side face unpredictable Stade Rennais in Brittany on Saturday, before a Coupe de la Ligue clash with holders AS Saint-Etienne next Wednesday. Then a challenging home game against title rivals Lille OSC that Sunday will bring an end to the 2013 portion of the schedule.

Blanc’s decision to rest some his stars makes it obvious how much emphasis will be put on the domestic cups this season and, bearing in mind last year’s poor showings in the Coupe de la Ligue and Coupe de France, this rotation is understandable.

This time last year, PSG were already out of the League Cup, having crashed out on penalties at the end of November away to Saint-Etienne, who went on the win the trophy. Twelve months later and the draw has been kind to Blanc’s men, who have the chance to avenge last season’s 5-3 penalty loss after a goalless 90 minutes, with Christophe Galtier’s side visiting the Parc des Princes this time.

Although there are still things at stake in the Champions League -- an unbeaten qualification record, for one -- Blanc has his priorities right, which includes not focusing on the opportunity for Ibrahimovic to break the individual record for goals scored in the group stage after equaling it last time out.

Besides, despite PSG's poor performance in Annecy, when they lost 2-0 to Evian last week, a number of Le President’s fringe players will have a chance to impress the coach by leading an understrength PSG side past Benfica, who will be gunning for second spot.

Ezequiel Lavezzi began to answer his critics with a rare goal in Saturday’s rout, but he needs to build on that display and a second consecutive scoring performance would consolidate his resurrection in the first team.

However, Lucas Moura has ever right to feel aggrieved at not having been given more game time over the past few weeks, with only 30 minutes against Evian to show for his otherwise impressive form since being dropped from the Brazilian national team. Frenchman Jeremy Menez had been in good form before Evian and also deserves further opportunities, while the absence of Verratti will surely give Javier Pastore another chance in midfield.

The inclusion of Edinson Cavani is something of a surprise considering his importance to the side during the pre-Christmas run-in. However, it is only fair that Ibrahimovic is allowed to rest when it is he who tends to play the first match after an international break without the support of the Uruguayan.

The biggest risk could be leaving both Silva and Alex with Marquinhos and veteran Zoumana Camara the only two senior central defenders in the squad. Lucas Digne and Adrien Rabiot return from injury and will likely start, while Christophe Jallet is set to play from the off for a third consecutive game with van der Wiel absent.

Losing at the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday is a threat to the winning momentum re-established by Saturday’s victory, but if it means progress in the Coupe de la Ligue next week it is arguably a price worth paying. For those involved, it is an opportunity to press their claims for heavier involvement in the run-in and for those left in Paris, a rare chance to recuperate.

So far, Blanc has shown, with the exception of the Evian game, that his squad rotation works. Tuesday will give certain younger players in the squad some much-needed Champions League experience that could prove to be vital come the latter stages.

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