It’s hard to believe but a new Paris Saint-Germain season is set to kick off this Saturday with the Trophée des Champions against Olympique Lyonnais.
A lot has changed since we last saw PSG celebrate their second consecutive domestic sweep: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gregory van der Wiel, Lucas Digne, and manager Laurent Blanc have all departed the club for one reason or another. In their place, Qatar Sports Investments brought in Unai Emery from Sevilla F.C. to manage the club along with new signings Thomas Meunier, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Grzegorz Krychowiak.
It’s a new era at PSG and that has created a lot of buzz among supporters eager for the season to begin. After an impressive preseason, Dave and I look ahead and predict how we think the season will go and answer a few burning questions.
1. Do you expect PSG to make any more signings before the transfer window closes? If so, who?
Dave: Judging by the recent comments of both Emery and Zinedine Zidane, I think we’re inching towards signing Jesé Rodriguez. This fits the bill–while I think we should probably sign a covering center-back given our injury issues, Emery seems to have faith in Presnel Kimpembe domestically and the likes of Krychowiak, Benjamin Stambouli, and Serge Aurier can certainly fill in. This leaves the primary target being a player who can cover out wide and play up front, and with a dearth of attractive options on the market (including the enticing Antoine Griezmann being near-certain to stay at Atletico Madrid), I think Jesé would be a very good signing. He’d certainly see plenty of football. After that, I doubt we sign anyone else barring the exit of Blaise Matuidi.
Ed: You mentioned Jesé and it sounds like that is a done deal. I was hoping to see PSG sign Wissam Ben Yedder from Toulouse F.C. but he recently signed for Sevilla instead. Jesé is a fine player and I definitely feel better going into the season with him in the squad. I’m with you in thinking that we probably won’t sign anyone else but there is one player out there that could be interesting. There’s a lot of speculation currently about the future of Riyad Mahrez at Leicester City F.C. With his teammate N’Golo Kante recently signing for Chelsea F.C., Mahrez may think this is the time to cash in on his breakout performance last season. I can’t see Mahrez getting into the starting XI but having him on the bench would add devastating pace late in games.
2. What quality does Unai Emery bring to PSG that you’re most looking forward to?
Dave: Tactical nuance. His passionate and involved figure on the sideline is a new experience for PSG fans and in the International Champions’ Cup we’ve seen a few formations and a few exciting tactical ideas. I personally love the buildup for Thomas Meunier’s second goal against Real Madrid: playing out the back with the split defenders, straight to Pastore for a flick, and then a through ball from Lucas to send Meunier in. Three passes, incisive, direct. I like having that in the arsenal.
Ed: I have to admit, I’ve been jealous of other clubs with managers on the sideline who are as animated as I am during matches. For the past few seasons, I had to watch Blanc stand emotionless as his tactics failed and PSG crashed out of the UEFA Champions League year-after-year. It’s also refreshing to see how hard the team is working to retrieve the ball when they don’t have possession. That’s something I feel is 100 percent because of Emery. The effort level all around has been impressive.
3. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic gone, who will have the most goals in all competitions at the end of the season?
Dave: Well, it must be Cavani, musn’t it? If he doesn’t become the focal point the fans and management are looking for I can see him being moved on next season for a decent sum. This will be the year that defines his career in Paris.
Ed: Cavani is a good choice but he misses far too many chances for me. I think Ben Arfa could be the player PSG look to when they need goals. Last season at OGC Nice, the Frenchman scored 17 Ligue 1 goals (two behind Cavani) and he didn’t have Angel Di Maria floating inch-perfect crosses into the box. With that kind of service, Ben Arfa could be have another breakout season.
4. Which Ligue 1 team poses the biggest threat to PSG’s quest to win a fifth straight league title?
Dave: Lyon have held on to a good few players, have a great new stadium, a productive youth academy…oh, and Nabil Fekir. They could certainly push on. Personally, I think they might need a year, maybe two even, to really get back on competitive terms. Olympique de Marseille meanwhile look happy to just stay in the top flight.
Ed: Lyon finished second (31 points back) last season and they appear to be the only team with the players capable of keeping the pressure on PSG. I love Fekir and despite losing Samuel Umtiti to Barcelona F.C., they have a great crop of young players. To be honest though, it’s likely going to be another runaway for Paris. Keep an eye on AS Monaco as well. They qualified for the Champions League recently and they could be sneaky good.
5. Will PSG complete a third consecutive domestic sweep?
Dave: I can’t really say I would be bothered if we didn’t! If we’ve got a cup tie two days before a Champions League fixture, I say play the kids in the cup tie. It’s about continental football. Frankly, I wouldn’t care if Emery lost the league provided he brought home a Champions League trophy.
Ed: I made this argument a few times on Twitter last season and I’ll say it again, a domestic sweep is incredibly difficult no matter what league you’re in. To do that three years in a row would be quite impressive but it won’t happen. Emery has stated his desire to work more with players from the academy and I think he will use the cup matches to see who can realistically challenge for a place in the first team. With inexperienced players comes upsets and I can see Paris losing in the quarterfinals of the Coupe de la Ligue or something like that.
6. How far will PSG go in the Champions League this season?
Dave: Realistically I think it’s a bit too soon in the new system for a continental triumph…but I want to say semifinals. This is a very strong Paris squad provided it’s fit, but the likes of Manchester City and Juventus, who are also perennially in the ‘dark horse’ tier, have strengthened a lot.
Ed: Emery isn’t unfamiliar with success on the European stage. The Spaniard has won the UEFA Europa League three consecutive times at Sevilla and I think with the world class players at his disposal, he can win the whole thing. Injuries and a bit of luck will play a role but this team has the quality to at least reach the semifinals.
7. Predict PSG’s starting XI and formation.
Dave: 4-2-3-1; Trapp; Kurzawa – Silva – Marquinhos – Aurier; Krychowiak – Verratti; Di Maria – Pastore – Lucas/Jese; Cavani
Ed: 4-2-3-1; Trapp; Maxwell – Silva – Luiz – Aurier; Krychowiak – Verratti; Di Maria – Pastore – Lucas; Cavani
8. What youth academy product will have a breakout season?
Dave: Emery has said he has his eye on a lot of the youth here, which I hope means more than just the already-established Adrien Rabiot. I personally highly rate Christopher Nkunku as a little midfield playmaker, but the academy has also given rise to internationally successful forwards like Odsonne Edouard and Jean-Kevin Augustin. Both of these players have won silverware at the international youth level, both of them have scored plenty of goals, I think we’ll see a lot from them.
Ed: I may be a prisoner of the moment but I was really impressed with Jonathan Ikone this preseason. He is a raw talent with a nose for goal, scoring against Real Madrid two minutes into the game and another against Leicester City. There’s a reason Juventus was sniffing around Ikone trying to lure him away from the French capital and if Emery is looking to bring some youth players into the first team, I think Ikone has earned a shot.
9. Finish this sentence: “PSG’s most valuable player this season will be…”
Dave: I want to say my beloved Javier Pastore, donning the iconic No. 10 shirt and given freedom in the middle to dictate things. Provided he recovers well from surgery, though, it must be Marco Verratti. Just like every other season before this…he is the man you build a team around.
Ed: This is the toughest question yet. There’s no question Verratti is vital to the success of the team but I also think Thiago Silva is equally as important. He is a rock in defense and provides cover for the other PSG defenders who have an affinity for getting forward. Silva has perhaps the toughest job in the squad and in the Champions League where away goals weigh so heavily, he will need to be at his best to help the team reach its lofty goals.
10. Give me one bold prediction for the season.
Dave: It’s bolder to say we’ll lose something domestically than saying we’ll win it, so I will go out on a limb and say we won’t do the domestic sweep. And frankly, no one will weep for a lost Coupe de la Ligue!
Ed: I will learn how to spell Grzegorz Krychowiak’s name without Googling it! Just kidding, that’s not going to happen. My bold prediction is for the Champions League and I predict two French teams will make it to the round of 16. PSG, Lyon, and Monaco are all in the tournament and with PSG a near lock to advance to the knockout stage, I think they will be joined by one of the other two.
Photograph by RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images