Paris Saint-Germain are back in Ligue 1 action away at Strasbourg on Saturday and can move a provisional 13 points clear at the top if they can emerge from Stade de la Meinau with a win.
On paper, that appears to be a straightforward task — Thierry Laurey’s men are only just outside of the relegation zone with three wins to their name all season. They have scored 17 and conceded 26 and no player in the squad has scored more than three times this campaign, so there is no obvious danger man.
PSG coach Unai Emery appeared to be more worried by his players’ fatigue levels during a hectic period rather than Strasbourg’s merits in his prematch news conference on Friday.
“Four matches in 10 days is a lot,” he told journalists at Camp des Loges. “We need to maintain our level.
“I will field a team that I believe is the best against a side who play in a 4-4-2 formation and attack plenty. We will need to impose our personality on the pitch, against a side who will have a lot of drive and who will be spurred on by their fans.
“I want to see my team extremely focused out on the pitch.”
Not every PSG player will be heading into the clash with Le Racing expecting a stroll through Strasbourg’s famous Christmas market and a knockabout on the side.
Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola came up against the one-time Ligue 1 champions when he was with Les Parisiens‘ reserves as the men from Alsace were admirably fighting their way back up the French football pyramid after being pushed to the brink of extinction.
Now in better health and — most importantly — under better ownership, Strasbourg’s supporters have plenty to shout about again and French football has one of its most important clubs back where it belongs.
After a third Ligue 2 title last season and finally back in the top flight after a decade way, the three-time Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue winners are enjoying a new lease of life.
Areola knows that this is not exactly good news for a PSG side likely to be thinking about next week’s Champions League clash across the border in Germany away at Bayern Munich.
“They are a physical team,” the French shot stopper told the Ligue 1 leaders’ official website ahead of the clash. “There is a great atmosphere at the Meinau.
“I have already experienced it when I was with the reserves. At the time, there were 20,000 people regularly watching matches there — it was a crazy atmosphere! This can help them, especially against us.
“We know that our opponents are waiting for us and that they want to put in their two best performances against us. They know that they must be at their best.
“I think that the atmosphere, the stadium and the state of the pitch can all influence the game but we must stay focused.”
Perhaps not the best time for Emery to rotate his starting XI too heavily then.
After giving Angel Di Maria, Javier Pastore, Thomas Meunier, Kevin Trapp, Presnel Kimpembe and Giovani Lo Celso rare chances from the off against Troyes, the Basque tactician is likely to give Yuri Berchiche the nod over Layvin Kurzawa and could bring Kylian Mbappe back into the fold.
Adrien Rabiot was a substitute against Troyes but helped to solidify the midfield when he came on and is looking more indispensable with every passing match.
The France international should start and enable regular midfield partner Marco Verratti to take a breather and Emery hailed the youth academy graduate’s recent strides.
“Adrien is progressing well,” the former Sevilla boss said of Rabiot. “He needs mobility and he is capable of getting into the opposition’s area as well as doing some tough defending.
“Playing a purely defensive midfield role is not for Adrien. He can do more than that on the field. Right now, he is turning in some excellent performances and is confident though (in Thiago Motta’s) deep-lying role.
“Adrien is helping the team — he is growing and he is combining better and better with Marco.”
With captain Thiago Silva left behind in Paris to rest and Layvin Kurzawa, Marco Verratti, Neymar and Edinson Cavani in need of special care to keep them in optimum condition for Bayern next week, we could see a similarly rotated starting XI to Troyes in Strasbourg.
As Areola has pointed out, though, whoever plays will have to be fully focused because there is never an easy match at Stade de la Meinau because of its boiling atmosphere — especially when the game is a total sell-out.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.