Paris Saint-Germain, PSG, go into Sunday’s home game with Bordeaux with a comfortable 10-point lead in Ligue 1, but life has been anything but comfortable for the French champions over the last week.
Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was indicted on Thursday in a Swiss corruption investigation, which does not directly involve PSG but is, however it turns out, a distraction.
Meanwhile, the future commitment of the club’s star striker is again in doubt, after Lionel Messi said in an interview published in Spain on Thursday that Neymar “really wants to return to Barcelona”.
On the field, PSG threw away points in their last league match with a bizarre 4-4 draw at Amiens last Saturday. PSG fell behind 3-0, fought back with four goals in 29 minutes and then conceded an equaliser in added time.
Perhaps that distracted display could be excused because the club was facing a much more meaningful test on Tuesday away to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. It is a competition the squad has been built to win, but they have lost in the first knockout round the last three seasons.
“This is not life or death, it’s a game of football,” Sporting director Leonardo said before the match.
Yet the reactions after PSG lost, 2-1, their first defeat in any competition since losing in the league at Dijon on November 1, suggested not everyone agreed with Leonardo.
Coach Thomas Tuchel rested Neymar for the two Ligue 1 outings in the run-up to Tuesday and, while he scored in Dortmund, the Brazilian complained after the game.
“I understand the club’s fear, because I missed the last 16 in each of the last two years,” he said. “I respect the decisions, but it can’t be that way, because it is the player who ends up suffering.”
“It was very difficult to play a game of that intensity,” he added. “If I were in a better condition physically then I definitely would have played better.”
Neymar seemed to have discovered his intensity and rhythm by Thursday night. Videos showed him dancing topless at a party to celebrate the birthdays of team-mates d’Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi and Edinson Cavani.
Dortmund do not visit Paris until March 11. Next Wednesday PSG face old enemies Lyon in a French Cup semi-final.
Bordeaux are unbeaten in their last five games, but three of those were draws and they are trudging along in mid-table. The question is whether they present enough of a challenge to force PSG to rediscover their intensity or will they give another distracted display?
Player to watch: Max-Alain Gradel
Toulouse need a miracle. Their captain is their best hope, and he knows it.
Toulouse are eight points adrift of Amiens and 13 points away from 18th and potential safety as they travel to fourth-place Lille on Saturday evening.
The 32-year-old Ivorian came off the bench after two months out with 25 minutes left and Toulouse down a goal and a man against Nice. The hosts had a second man sent off, but Gradel still won a 90th minute penalty, which Aaron Leya Iseka missed and Nice added a second goal.
“If I didn’t really believe in the game, I wouldn’t have taken the risk of coming back so quickly,” said Gradel, whose four goals this season make him joint-leading scorer at the club.
“If we saves ourselves, it will be all of us together,” he said. “Nobody believes in us, but we have to take it as a challenge, and for me it’s this kind of battle that motivates me.”
“I’m a leader, I’m the captain and I’m going to do everything I can to be decisive.”
He needs to start at Lille, the last team Toulouse beat, way back on October 19.
21: Matches since Toulouse last won away, on January 19 last year at Nimes
0: Red cards PSG and Bordeaux have between them in the league
36: Number of shots Marseille has allowed in their last three league games while conceding just one goal
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Nice v Brest (1800), Metz v Lyon (1945)
Marseille v Nantes (1630), Angers v Montpellier, Strasbourg v Amiens, Dijon v Monaco, Lille v Toulouse (1900)
Saint-Etienne v Reims (1400), Rennes v Nimes (1600), Paris Saint-Germain v Bordeaux (2000)