Paris Saint-Germain’s players jubilate after a goal during the French League Cup quarter-final football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Metz, on January 11, 2017 at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. / AFP PHOTO / MARTIN BUREAU
With one eye twitching in the direction of Barcelona in the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain head into their first taste of 2017 French league action with ground to make up.
Saturday’s game at a Rennes side with realistic designs on Europe will, PSG hope, reignite their form after an opening half of the campaign which saw four defeats and left them five points adrift of Ligue 1 table-toppers Nice.
With Monaco also three points above them, PSG have work to do if they are to rekindle ambitions of a fifth straight championship success and third straight domestic treble.
And with Nice unlikely to slip up Sunday at home to lowly Metz, midfielder Adrien Rabiot knows the Paris side cannot afford to get distracted by the prospect of the visit of Barcelona on Valentine’s Day.
“We told ourselves we have a number of targets and we want to win everything. We’ve started the second part of the season well,” Rabiot told France television after a midweek league cup win over Metz.
More domestic dominance on all fronts looks to be a minimum target for Spanish coach Unai Emery, who managed a hat-trick of Europa League triumphs with Sevilla before heading to Paris to replace Laurent Blanc.
New attacking impetus has arrived in the shape of German international star and 2014 world champion Julian Draxler, recruited for 40 million euros ($42 million) from Wolfsburg.
While PSG look to fine-tune their handsomely monied but spluttering motor, Nice and Monaco are showing that the game in the French south consists of more than Marseille.
With Marseille in sixth place and looking unlikely to capture a Champions League slot, Riviera neighbours Nice and Monaco — who play Marseille this weekend — are going great guns.
Nice, buoyed by the recent arrival of Chinese, US and Middle East investment, won all four of their league crowns in the 1950s but have failed to each such heights since. They finished fourth last term.
They ended their December league programme with a draw against Bordeaux, rescued despite sendings-off for former Liverpool misfit Mario Balotelli and Younes Belhanda.
Balotelli won’t feature against Metz because of suspension.
Monaco’s task appears more tricky away at Marseille.
Marseille media report that the club is determined to bring in fresh blood in the transfer window and is keeping an eye on the situation regarding West Ham’s French striker Dimitri Payet, who has told the Londoners he’d like a move and harbours hopes of a return to the Stade Velodrome.
Another name reputedly in the frame is veteran Ivorian striker and former OM and Chelsea favourite Didier Drogba.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Lille v St Etienne (1945)
Rennes v Paris SG (1600)
Toulouse v Nantes, Angers v Bordeaux, Lorient v Guingamp, Montpellier v Dijon, Nancy v Bastia (all l900)
Nice v Metz (1400), Caen v Lyon (1600), Marseille v Monaco (2000)