Mauricio Pochettino needed less than two weeks to win his first trophy with Paris Saint-Germain but his new team are still doing the chasing in Ligue 1, a point behind leaders Lyon heading into the second half of the season.
PSG go to Angers on Saturday fresh from beating Marseille 2-1 in Lens in midweek to win the Champions Trophy, the traditional curtain-raiser to the French season moved to the middle of winter as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on football.
The game conveniently came just 11 days after Pochettino returned to the club where he once played, allowing him to win the first trophy more than a decade after his coaching career began but after just three games in charge of the Qatar-owned club.
“My thoughts are with (former coach) Thomas Tuchel and his staff, who allowed us to play this match,” Pochettino said, with a nod to the man who guided PSG to a clean sweep of domestic honours in France last season but was sacked in late December.
“It is difficult to describe with words, especially as this is a club that helped me become a better person and better player.”
PSG have claimed back-to-back wins under the Argentine after drawing at Saint-Etienne in his first game at the helm. The return of Neymar as a substitute after a month out was significant, as the world’s most expensive player came off the bench to score a crucial late penalty against Marseille.
“We want to put our ideas in place and we are progressing in every area,” said Pochettino, who has done away with Tuchel’s tinkering with a three-man central defence and notably moved Marco Verratti into a more advanced role behind the striker.
They are minor changes and it remains to be seen how PSG shape up by the time their Champions League last 16, first leg against Barcelona comes around in mid-February.
In the meantime Neymar could now start on Saturday in Angers as PSG look to pile the pressure on Lyon, who are a point better off than both the capital side and Lille in third.
With Lyon not playing Metz until Sunday, a win for Paris will take them back to top of the table, at least for one night.
Player to watch: Mauro Icardi
Icardi had played five minutes in three months before coming off the bench to score for PSG as they beat Brest 3-0 last weekend. That earned him a start in midweek against Marseille, when he scored the opener, crashed a shot off the bar and then won the decisive late penalty converted by Neymar.
The Argentine looked overweight and sluggish for much of 2020 and spent most of the first half of this season injured, or sidelined after a positive coronavirus test.
Now he has a new look off the pitch, sporting a beret everywhere he goes, and on the field he suddenly looks sharp again and ready to fight with Moise Kean for a place up front.
16 – Leaders Lyon are unbeaten in 16 Ligue 1 games, their best run since 2005 and the longest current run of any team in Europe’s so-called “Big Five” leagues.
300 – PSG captain Marquinhos made his 300th appearance for the club in Wednesday’s win over Marseille. The Brazilian defender was signed from Roma as a 19-year-old in 2013.
50 – Eighteen-year-old France international midfield prodigy Eduardo Camavinga’s next game will be his 50th in France’s top flight.
Fixtures (Kick-offs GMT)
Montpellier v Monaco (2000)
Marseille v Nimes (1600), Angers v Paris Saint-Germain (2000)
Brest v Rennes (1200), Lorient v Dijon, Nantes v Lens, Nice v Bordeaux, Strasbourg v Saint-Etienne (all 1400), Lille v Reims (1600), Lyon v Metz (2000)