Paris Saint-Germain go to Lille in Ligue 1 this Sunday not as league leaders but as title chasers with their hosts out in front by a single point.
While LOSC will be coming to terms with former owner Gerard Lopez’s rapid sale of the club to Merlyn Partners and former Parisien sporting director Olivier Letang, PSG will be concentrated on turning their recent domestic form around as they try to navigate a complicated season so far.
It promises to be a fascinating matchup between the most consistent team across both Le Championnat and France’s continental representatives this campaign and the defending champions as they seek their 10th French crown.
PSG keep losing matches
PSG’s most pressing problem right now is their domestic form.
Having turned their Champions League group stage upside down to finish top of Group H when it had looked bleak after losses to Manchester United and RB Leipzig, it seemed as if a corner had been turned.
However, two wins from five since that time is not what the Qatar-owned club are accustomed to and it is four defeats already this season if we include all of the results — a record poor start.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of all of this is the identity of their conquerors this campaign; Olympique de Marseille and Olympique Lyonnnais ended lengthy droughts at Parc des Princes, Monaco came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and promoted Lens profited from a COVID-hit squad.
On form alone, a fifth Ligue 1 loss this early is unacceptable, but it is far from being the only concern in the French capital.
Tuchel under pressure
The pressure has been building on Thomas Tuchel for quite some time now despite him leading PSG to last season’s Champions League final.
The team’s playing style regularly leaves a lot to be desired in matches and there is little that convinces about his starting XIs and in-game tactical decisions.
Add in his frosty public relationship with sporting director Leonardo – despite a recent thaw — as well as his expiring contract and it feels like the two parties are reaching the end of their time together.
Former player Mauricio Pochettino and ex-Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri have regularly been linked with the role and Tuchel himself has attracted interest from United of late.
CBS Sports Sources can confirm tentative PSG interest in both Pochettino and Allegri while Thiago Motta was also a candidate at one point but has since fallen out of the running.
United and PSG’s situations appear to be linked with the two shared prospects and the Premier League side also keen on Tuchel but no concrete moves have been made.
Champions League prize money for reaching the knockout phase, boosted by poor performances from Marseille and Rennes has also brought some economic relief but the collapse of Mediapro’s lucrative television rights deal will be a significant consideration in any future moves for players or staff.
Key to PSG turning their Champions League situation around was superstar Neymar who chipped in with six goals across three matches at the back end of the group stage to ensure wins over Leipzig, United and Istanbul Basaksehir.
However, the Brazil international sprained his ankle and was stretchered off late on in the 1-0 loss to Lyon after a scissor tackle by Thiago Mendes which earned the OL man a red card.
PSG have confirmed that Neymar will not be back until January at the earliest, so he is unavailable for Lille this weekend and RC Strasbourg Alsace next week.
The 28-year-old’s absence hands Kylian Mbappe the chance to step up after a few mixed weeks of form but make no mistake, Tuchel’s side is weaker without the now talismanic South American and Lille is not a place you want to go under-strength.
Possible Mbappe and Neymar extensions
Another storyline that has been bubbling away at Parc des Princes for some time now is the futures of both Neymar and Mbappe with both due to run out of contract in the summer of 2022.
Chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi spoke publicly about the futures of both players after the 5-0 demolition of Basaksehir recently but nothing official has yet materialized despite the Qatari boss’s confidence.
The longer the situation drags on, the more of a distraction it becomes and with the winter break fast approaching, it offers an ideal moment for progress to be made so that all parties have clarity on their individual and collective futures.
In addition to the Neymar and Mbappe speculation, there are also the regular claims that PSG are readying a big money move for the Barca legend as early as January.
While CBS Sports sources can confirm that the French giants are paying attention to the situation at Camp Nou — and not just ahead of their Champions League clash — there are no concrete plans to launch an offensive — yet.
Any such swoop would likely require the sort of planning that goes into a summer transfer window and with so many other uncertainties, notably that of Tuchel’s future and French football’s financial peril because of Mediapro, that means that this will likely either drag on until next summer or fade.
Leonardo said a few months ago that opportunities to sign the likes of a Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo would merit consideration but there is too much right now that could change in the next few months for such a move to be a January possibility.
So, PSG head to Lille knowing that they cannot afford to lose again and having been handed a reprieve through midweek results.
A win over Christophe Galtier’s men would allow them to retake control of the situation and the mental impact of LOSC’s recent sale could aid that but a defeat would place them in great difficulty.
With the midway point of the season approaching, Tuchel knows now that it is cheaper for PSG to dismiss him than it was in the summer and domestic form deterioration would give them justification for that.
Two wins would probably ensure that the German stays in place over winter and gets one final shot at Champions League glory before leaving.
There is no scenario at present where Tuchel stays on beyond this season and his recent press conferences have started to portray a man who knows that he is on borrowed time in Paris.
The question is: how much?