Less than two months after their appearance in the final, Paris Saint-Germain begin a new bid for UEFA Champions League glory next week. Ligue1.com gives the lowdown on their chances as well as the rest of France’s European contenders…
In Champions League Group H with Manchester United, RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir
First up: Manchester United (h) on Tuesday
The dust has barely settled on PSG’s run to the final in Lisbon in August, when Thomas Tuchel’s side lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich at an empty Estadio da Luz. It was the capital club’s first appearance in the final of Europe’s elite club competition and it came in the year of their 50th birthday. Now they are eager to go one better.
Much of the evidence suggests that it will be an even harder task. Tuchel may still feel his squad is weaker than last season after the departures of Thiago Silva, Thomas Meunier and Edinson Cavani in particular, although he will hope the signings made just before the transfer window closed can make their mark.
Then there is the fact that the group-stage draw could scarcely have been tougher for Paris. In United and Leipzig, they have the sides who came third in last season’s English Premier League and German Bundesliga respectively, while Istanbul Basaksehir have just won their first Turkish title.
A meeting with Leipzig will bring back good memories of PSG’s 3-0 win in the semi-final in Lisbon in August, but all three away matches in particular promise to be major tests. They go to Istanbul on matchday two, but first up is a home clash with United on Tuesday. The game gives PSG the chance to avenge their defeat by the same opponents in the last 16 in 2019, but the curfew introduced in the Ile-de-France region as part of the fight against coronavirus ensures the game will be played behind closed doors. Deprived of their home support, PSG will also have to cope with the prospect of seeing Cavani in the opposition ranks. Despite all of that, a team containing Neymar Jr, Kylian Mbappé and so many other outstanding players must be the favourites to advance out of their group for a ninth straight season.
Olympique de Marseille
In Champions League Group C with FC Porto, Manchester City and Olympiacos
First up: Olympiacos (a) on Wednesday
After sitting second when the last Ligue 1 season was ended early because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Marseille are now back in the Champions League for the first time in seven years.
Still the only French club to have won the European Cup, OM are hoping to fare considerably better than on that last appearance in 2013-14, when they lost all six group games against Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli.
If that was an especially challenging group, this time Marseille have been handed about as good a draw as they could have hoped for having been placed in Pot 4. Porto were probably the ideal top seeds, especially for coach André Villas-Boas who comes from the Portuguese city and led his hometown club to a domestic league and cup double as well as the Europa League in one season in charge in 2010-11.
But before a double header with the Portuguese champions, Marseille go to Greece to take on Olympiacos in a crucial game on Wednesday. They surely need to take something in Piraeus if they are to stand a chance of progressing to the Champions League knockout phase for the first time since 2011-12 - a campaign they began with a 1-0 win away to Olympiacos.
The visit of Pep Guardiola’s City will follow that, with Marseille also handicapped by the absence of their supporters - the curfew in the Marseille and Aix-en-Provence region means that game will be played behind closed doors at the Orange Vélodrome. While it remains to be seen if Marseille are now stronger or weaker following the closure of the transfer window, there has to be hope among supporters that their team can make a genuine impact in Group C.
Stade Rennais FC
In Champions League Group E with Sevilla, Chelsea and FC Krasnodar
First up: FC Krasnodar (h) on Tuesday
Their best-ever third-place finish in the last, curtailed season allowed Rennes to enter the Champions League for the first time, and they were saved from having to go through the qualifying rounds as a knock-on from Sevilla winning the Europa League.
And so now the Brittany side make their debut at European football’s top table when Krasnodar come to Roazhon Park on Tuesday. It is just such a shame that only 1,000 spectators will be allowed to attend the game due to the health crisis.
Memories come back of great recent nights at a bouncing Roazhon Park against the likes of Betis and Arsenal in the Europa League, or against PSG domestically, and it certainly feels as though Rennes have been building up to this moment ever since Julien Stéphan became coach.
The Bretons have invested heavily in building a squad that can compete at this level, with the arrival of players like Dalbert, Daniele Rugani, Jérémy Doku and Serhou Guirassy, and the fact Eduardo Camavinga has stayed put, underlining their ambition.
So can Rennes get out of this group? That will be a big ask given the presence of both big-spending Chelsea and a Sevilla side whose credentials are clear. But at the very least Rennes should be able to compete with these sides and will hope to secure third place as a minimum. To do that they will have to start strongly against Krasnodar, who finished third in last season’s Russian Premier League and then defeated PAOK of Greece in the play-offs to reach the group stage for the first time, with former Ligue 1 star Rémy Cabella playing a key role.
In Europa League Group H with Celtic, Sparta Prague and AC Milan
First up: Sparta Prague (a) on Thursday
Lille were deeply disappointed to miss out on a podium place when the last Ligue 1 season was ended early. They missed out on Champions League qualification, after taking just a single point in last season’s competition in a tough group featuring Valencia, Chelsea and Ajax.
Yet Christophe Galtier’s side now have plenty to look forward to after being pitted in a Europa League group that would not look out of place in the Champions League. Celtic and Milan have eight European Cup triumphs between them while Sparta have been national champions 33 times and are former European Cup semi-finalists.
LOSC lack the European history of any of these sides, having never made it past the last 16 of any continental competition. Yet on paper they should fancy their chances of progressing to the knockout phase, especially with players of the calibre of Renato Sanches (below) in their ranks.
The November double-header with a resurgent Milan will bring back memories for Lille fans of their meetings with the Italian giants in the 2006-07 Champions League group stage. Then, on the last matchday, Les Dogues won 2-0 at San Siro to reach the last 16.
However before that Lille will need to start strongly when they head to the Czech capital to face Sparta. They finished well behind Slavia Prague and Viktoria Plzen in their domestic league last season but did win the Czech Cup and will be awkward first opponents for a team who have contrived to go 17 games without winning in European competition.
In Europa League Group C with Bayer Leverkusen, Slavia Prague and Hapoel Be’er Sheva
First up: Bayer Leverkusen (a) on Thursday
Nice are ambitious and determined to make an impact in Europe this season as well as competing towards the top of the Ligue 1 Uber Eats table under Patrick Vieira. They will be hoping to do even better than on their last appearance in the Europa League in 2017-18, when they lost in the last 32.
Les Aiglons begin with what looks like their toughest assignment, away to Leverkusen. But the key for them will be getting results against Slavia, the Czech champions who lost in the Champions League play-offs, and Hapoel of Israel, who have come all the way from the first qualifying round and famously beat Inter Milan home and away in this competition in 2016-17.