Paris Saint-Germain must learn to rely on their "collective strength" says Mauricio Pochettino as the Ligue 1 Uber Eats leaders aim to get a positive result at third-placed Nice without the suspended Kylian Mbappé on Saturday ahead of next week's UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg with Real Madrid.
Nice vs. PSG (kick-off 9pm CET)
Mbappé misses the trip to the Côte d'Azur — where he made his name with Monaco — due to suspension, and he will be sorely missed as he has been in rare form with five goals and two assists in his last six league outings.
He will return against Madrid having given PSG a 1-0 first-leg lead in the tie, and Pochettino acknowledged his team — and their opponents — are a different proposition with the France international forward on the pitch.
WATCH: Nice's tactical masterclass at the Parc des Princes
"We're talking about one of the best players in the world. The psychological aspect is important for his teammates and the opponent. But we know it can happen during a season," said the PSG coach. "The important thing is that the squad believes in its collective strength. We have to develop the idea that the squad isn't strong thanks to individual performances, but rather thanks to its collective strength, which is something we have to cultivate despite having players missing."
Mbappé will not be the only face absent as PSG look to protect the 15-point lead they have at the top of the table. Leandro Paredes missed the last two league games with an adductor problem, and though he has returned to training, the Argentina international midfielder will remain on the sidelines. Sergio Ramos (calf), Achraf Hakimi (thigh), Ander Herrera (eye infection) and Layvin Kurzawa (back) join him as Pochettino looks to his high-powered side to use the heavyweight encounter at the Allianz Riviera as a dress rehearsal for Wednesday's galactic outing at the Santiago Bernabeu.
"Nice are going to cause us problems, they're a demanding team, in a good league position, and have qualified for the Coupe de France final. They're very competitive and well organised. I don't think it's inconvenient to play them before taking on Real, it could be beneficial. Being competitive at that level against Nice will help us prepare the Champions League game against Real. It'll enable us to up our focus and level," said the former Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur boss, who could hand Africa Cup of Nations winner Idrissa Gueye his 200th Ligue 1 Uber Eats appearance.
"We have to be focussed on the match against Nice and find the right tactics to win. For the second leg, there will be players missing in Madrid. As for us, we'll see after Saturday's game which players are available. We'll see which is the best team to play Real after the Nice match. We have to be competitive and focussed on Saturday's game, out of respect for the competition and for Nice. The best means of preparing big Champions League matches is to be focussed all the time."
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Nice have won just one of their last 17 league games against Paris, though Christophe Galtier has done better than any other coach against the capital club since it was taken over by Qatari investors in 2011.
He has picked up 14 points in 20 meetings with PSG, including one in the goalless draw between the two teams at the Parc des Princes just before Christmas. He then went one better, knocking the holders out of the Coupe de France at the Round of 16 stage in a penalty shoot-out after again keeping PSG scoreless.
However, with just three points between his side and the hard-charging Rennes in fourth, Galtier is looking for more from his team than just a well-organised rearguard action.
"We've gotten two 0-0s, but in those games we created three-and-a-half chances for ourselves. That's way too little to beat Paris," said the Nice boss, who is without full-backs Jordan Amavi (knee) and Youcef Atal (collarbone). "We have to get a result, because our position in the table requires us to get results if we want to stay in the hunt for a European qualifying place. But to beat Paris, we'll have to be a lot more dangerous."
Nice: Benitez; Lotomba, Rosario, Dante (c), Bard; Boudaoui, Lemina, Thuram, Kluivert; Delort, Gouiri
PSG: Navas; Kehrer, Marquinhos (c), Kimpembe, Mendes; Gueye, Danilo, Wijnaldum; Messi, Di Maria, Neymar