Paris Saint-Germain rounded off a more than reasonable pre-season with a 6-2 victory in Hong Kong against Kitchee where Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped himself to a hat-trick. With the curtain raiser against Guingamp just three days away in the Trophee des Champions, Laurent Blanc can look back over the last few weeks with a wry smile.
Much like last year, the coach has had to prepare with a host of notable absentees in his squad. The FIFA World Cup in Brazil – like it did with the Confederations Cup last year – has meant a vast amount of the squad have been on extended breaks. Slowly but surely they have returned, with the exceptions of the Brazilian trio Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Maxwell. Also, World Cup runner-up Ezequiel Lavezzi has yet to join up with Les Parisiens along with two of the three Les Bleus representatives, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cbaye.
Despite the absence of those six players, the champions have put in a number of decent performances with results to match. The only defeat came against Leipzig which ended 4-2 in Austria but the performance was in fact pretty decent. There have been a few defensive frailties but this will be addressed as soon as the skipper comes back along with his partner in crime Luiz. Of course, both have come under heavy fire after Brazil’s capitulation in the World Cup but there is no denying how fundamental the pair of them are for any quest for glory this forthcoming season. It is up to Blanc to bed Luiz in as best he can, and hopefully resolve quickly any mental issues he may have due to that harrowing night in Belo Horizonte where Germany ran riot.
On the positive side, two young guns have had a terrific pre-season. Hervin Ongenda – as he did last summer – has simmered. Jean-Christophe Bahebeck has also been in sparkling form. The pair of them have netted nine goals between them which is mightily impressive. Undoubtedly Ongenda has the better chance of breaking through to the first team this season but Bahebeck’s contribution should not be scoffed out. However, it seems likely he could end up out on loan again as he has been for the past two seasons. Nevertheless, he along with Ongenda have impressed Blanc and certainly gave him food for thought.
The one niggling issue left is this whole saga surrounding Angel di Maria. It is getting a little tedious and it is obvious that we must sell a marquee name in order to get a deal done. As I have said over the past couple of weeks, it seems as if Lavezzi may be that name. Reports yesterday suggested that he has been offered to Atletico Madrid, with clubs in England and Italy also interested. These links have indeed intensified in the midst of the Di Maria soap opera.
There will be a number of departures too. Clement Chantome will most probably seek pastures new, along with Adrien Rabiot who looks odds on for a move to Juventus. Le Parisien reported yesterday that officials from both clubs will meet in the coming days to thrash out a deal.
With all that to be addressed, the squad rack up the air miles again as they head for China to defend the TDC against Coupe de France winners Guingamp. The curtain raiser will take place in the infamous Bird’s Nest this coming Saturday. Incredible to think that just a week later, the Ligue 1 season will be underway as we begin the defence of our title at Stade de Reims. Bring it on!