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Rebooted Paris Saint-Germain count down to ecstasy on three fronts

By Paul Myers - RFI
Europe REUTERS - GONZALO FUENTES
SAT, 06 APR 2024 LISTEN
REUTERS - GONZALO FUENTES

What does it say about the essence of a football championship when a team can lose the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Marco Verratti and still be 12 points clear with seven games remaining?

France's Ligue 1 and Paris Saint-Germain are respectively those beings. And as Luis Enrique's side prepare to entertain Clermont on Saturday night at the Parc des Princes, highly paid executives at the club must be fearing for their jobs after lustily pursuing such big names.

The departure of such star players, coupled with Enrique's arrival in July, has saved the club squillions in wages and resulted in much the same thing. Domestic dominance.

And after a few struggles – teething troubles as Enrique described them as his squad tried to assimilate his methods – PSG have pulled away inLigue 1.

A breeze past Toulouse in January brought them the French Super Cup and barring a catastrophic meltdown, a record-extending 12th top flight crown should be secured within a fortnight or so.

Last Wednesday, PSG overcome bete noire Rennes to reach the final of the Coupe de France where they will play a Lyon side now ecstatically mid table and free of relegation concerns following a disastrous start to the campaign in which they had gathered seven points from 14 games.

The Coupe de France final will be Lyon's opportunity to hoist a first piece of silverware since 2012. No such penury for PSG who under their Qatari backers have harvested 31 trophies during Lyon's drought.

Glory

"Cups in any country are particularly important,"  Enrique told PSG TV just after victory over Rennes.

The 53-year-old Spaniard, who steered Barcelona to three Copa del Rey trophies during his three years in charge at the Camp Nou, added: "The Coupe de France has been one of our objectives since the start of the season. The team has been good throughout the entire competition and I think all our supporters will be delighted with what we've done."

Enrique showed how seriously he took the competition by naming PSG's record goalscorer Kylian Mbappé in the starting line-up.

Doubts over whether the France skipper would appear from the outset arose after he reacted petulantly to being substituted mid way through the second half of the game at Marseille with the side only 1-0 up but down to 10 men.

His replacement Gonçalo Ramos sealed the game with PSG's second in the closing stages prompting speculation that the Portuguese striker might start against Rennes.

But Mbappé was sent out and after missing two presentable chances including a 37th-minute penalty, he broke the deadlock when his strike took a deflection off Rennes defender Warmed Omari to wrong-foot goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

Poor

Clermont, who prop up the division with 20 points from 27 games, appear doomed.

"Obviously we don't go into the game as favourites," said Clermont boss Pascal Gastien on the eve of the clash.

"But we're going to fight. From what I've seen of the players during the week in training is that we're not finished yet. We're not resigned to going down but we've got a tough assignment.

"We're playing at the home of the best team in France and one of the best eight in Europe."

Progress to ultimate glory in the Champions League – European football's most prestigious competition – obsessed PSG's owners following their full takeover of the club in March 2012.

Pursuit of glory in the tournament led to the arrival of marquee signings such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Angel Di Maria.

Throw in the likes of Neymar, Messi and Mbappé and the lack of success has amplified the schadenfreude among other supporters.

Enrique raised eyebrows at the beginning of this season's European tilt by downplaying its importance.

"When any person, or any club, becomes obsessed with something, it is not a good sign," said Enrique who steered Barcelona to the Champions League title in 2015.

"We need to be hopeful, ambitious too, but becoming obsessed does not work in any area of life," added the former Spain boss.

And voilà. For the first time since 2021, they are in the last eight.

But for Enrique, that is then. He is concerned with the now.  "We've got some important matches ahead of us and we're not champions yet, so we have to play against Clermont to win," he said in the prelude to the fixture.

"We're in first place; they're last. They're going to give it everything they've got and so I want players who think about the match against Clermont and not the rest."

Should PSG eclipse Barcelona over the two legs, some heavyweight teams remain to conquer.

But if after failing in the Champions League, there's still weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth from PSG fans following a triple crown of French Super Cup, Coupe de France and Ligue 1, well, that says a lot about them.

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