The month of April will be an important one for Paris Saint-Germain. During that time, they play in five Ligue 1 games, a Coupe de la Ligue final, a Coupe de France semifinal, and potentially three critical UEFA Champions League games. It’s a hectic run of matches that will ultimately decide whether this season has been a success or a failure.
The story of PSG’s 2015-16 season will be written in the next 30 days and the players and manager must stay focused on the difficult fixture list ahead. With another domestic quadruple on the line and qualification for the Champions League semifinals, the club’s primary objective heading into the season, here is what I predict will be the keys to achieving their goals this season:
KEY PLAYERS MUST STEP UP
Paris have failed to consistently deliver peak performances in the last few months, suffering their first two league defeats all season in a span of 21 days recently. While impressive during their Champions League tie against reigning Premier League champions Chelsea F.C., Le Rouge et Bleu must do better.
A major reason for the underwhelming performances is the absence of a few key players and the shockingly poor play of others. Thiago Motta is the first name that comes to mind. He started the season strong following his contract extension in the summer but the Italian has shown signs of decline, especially in the last couple of months. For a player so key to PSG’s possession-based game, he must improve. Hopefully, his appearance with the Italian national team will help him regain his form and play well for PSG. His place in the Italy squad for EUFA Euro 2016 may depend on it.
Blaise Matuidi is another key players who’s had a rough year. After a strong start, he’s gone on to miss a few games recently and overall has not been what Parisian supporters have come to expect from the former AS Saint-Etienne man. The engine of the team, Matuidi is known for his unrelenting work rate and his ability to contribute to the defense and attack almost simultaneously. “Big Bad Blaise” as he’s fondly referred to on social media will need to be in top form as PSG enter the crucial run of games. Hopefully, his well taken goal, which saw France defeat the Netherlands on international duty, can provide the confidence boost he needs. I’m sure most of the fans won’t mind seeing Matuidi doing the “Charo” a few more times this season.
David Luiz has also endured a poor run of form for both club and country in recent weeks. With Marquinhos desperate for playing time, Luiz will raise his level of play to keep his place in the starting XI.
Lastly, Paris received a bit of good news after it was revealed that the injury Angel Di Maria picked up while with his national team was nothing serious and he should be available against Manchester City on April 6.
THE RETURN OF AURIER & PASTORE
Laurent Blanc should have a close to fully fit squad at his disposal for most of April as a number of vital players return from injury and suspension.
Serge Aurier’s return to the squad after his lengthy suspension stemming from a rant on social media will be a big boost to the squad. The defender was having a brilliant season just before his expletive-filled Periscope session and hopefully Blanc can reintegrate him back into the squad as soon as possible. Tension between the Ivorian and other members of the team seem to be cooling off, with Salvatore Sirigu—one of the players mentioned specifically in the rant—inviting him to the team’s title celebrations and Matuidi showing his support via Twitter.
@Serge_aurier merci mon frère content que tu es pu rejouer et hâte de te revoir parmi nous mon guerrier??????
— Blaise Matuidi (@MATUIDIBlaise) March 25, 2016
Marquinhos has indeed put in a big shift for the team at right back but Aurier gives the team an entirely new dimension and I have no doubt he’ll play exceptionally well in order to make up for the huge mistake he made. Fresh off the international qualifiers, match fitness shouldn’t be a concern for Aurier either. There’s a chance we’ll get to see the Ivorian bombing up and down the right flank again as early as the first leg of the the Mancester City with Blanc saying he could start if he deserve it.
Javier Pastore, who missed the AS Monaco game and sat out the international break due to injury, looks set to return soon but will miss the game against OGC Nice.
Subject to Motta’s recent downturn in form has been mostly attributed to the recurring injuries to fellow countryman Marco Verratti. Both players share an almost telepathic connection on the pitch and Motta hasn’t been able to cope in his absence.
Verratti’s injury issues unfortunately continue and he’ll reportedly miss the first leg of the tie against City. We can only hope the Italian recovers as soon as possible as much of PSG’s success depends on him patrolling the midfield.
YOUTH PLAYERS MUST GROW UP
I mentioned the fixture congestion earlier and Blanc will need to rotate his squad to cope with the onslaught of games. Young players will need to fill in during domestic and league cup games—and perform well—in order to give first team players a rest in between Champions League matches.
One of the young players in particular who has failed to live up to the hype is 19-year-old forward Jean-Kevin Augustin. The former Titi d’Or winner (an award given to the best player in the PSG youth academy) has failed to impress after a promising pre-season campaign—scoring only one goal in seven appearances this season. This will be his chance to step up and show he’s different from the likes of Hervin Ongenda and Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, who promised so much yet delivered so little in the past. Christopher Nkunku is another youth player who should get more playing time and I’m interested to see if he can improve and end the season on a high note.
It’s going to be a tough month for PSG and every player from the top of the lineup sheet to the bottom will need to contribute at some point. If there was ever a perfect time for PSG to start manifesting their true potential, now will be it as they’ll need to be in top form to achieve their lofty goals.