Neymar to make PSG return with Lille in town
By I. Holyman
Paris Saint-Germain face one of their stiffest tests yet when the Ligue 1 Conforama leaders play host to LOSC Lille — last season's runners-up — in Friday's Week 14 curtain-raiser, though should welcome Neymar Jr. back.
PSG - LOSC Lille
PSG's cosmopolitan squad have been scattered around the world during the international break, but return their focus to their club's domestic challenge at the Parc des Princes looking to build on the impressive eight-point lead they have already built at the top of the table.
That advantage was solidified by a 2-1 defeat of Stade Brestois 29 before the break with Mauro Icardi's 85th-minute winner only just putting paid to PSG fears they would slip up against another of the division's less glamourous clubs.
Their should be no complacency against LOSC, and coach Thomas Tuchel insists even next week's UEFA Champions League trip to Madrid will not cause his players to take their eyes off their domestic duties.
WATCH: PSG pick up Brest win
"I don't like the word 'rehearsal' because we're only focusing on the match against Lille, even if we'll face Real Madrid straight after. That’s our challenge: to stay focused on the game against Lille, show our qualities and play well in every match. We have to focus if we want to win because Lille is a Champions League team," said the PSG boss.
"This team is very strong on the counterattack, very fast, very difficult to play against. We have three tough matches ahead of us, because Monaco is also very strong at the moment. The challenge is to focus on Lille. We'll have to be very focused, attentive, play together, control the counter-attacks and the game."
Ander Herrera, Marco Verratti and Loïc Mbe Soh are all unavailable to the German tactician, while Kylian Mbappé, who missed the Brest game and played for France during the international break, faces a late fitness test after suffering from illness during the build-up to the game.
Tuchel does have Neymar Jr available after a month with the Brazilian superstar on the sidelines with a hamstring problem, though the world's most expensive footballer is likely to have to settle for a cameo role with his fitness still short of optimal.
"Neymar feels good, he's trained well and he'll be in the squad," confirmed Tuchel. "He's done more than the others in these last two weeks. He's worked well. He can play if everything goes well."
That can't be said of the last time PSG faced LOSC as the northerners ran out 5-1 winners in a remarkable triumph last season. But Christophe Galtier's side, who were inspired by Nicolas Pepe that day, make the short trip south with their confidence fragile.
WATCH: What happened last season
Though they are the only Ligue 1 Conforama side yet to lose at home this season, Lille are also one of only five top-flight outfits yet to pick up a victory 'on the road' in 2019/20. They will move into second if they win at the Parc des Princes, but after stumbling to a goalless draw at home to FC Metz last time out, the odds are against them.
"This season we've had our difficulties away from home but we've been working a lot on that," explained Jose Fonte. "The game against PSG presents us with a good opportunity to put things right."
Galtier faces the league leaders with a doubt over Jonathan Bamba — who, like Mbappé, has been bed-ridden all week — and with leading scorer Victor Osimhen suspended. Former PSG forward Timothy Weah remains short of fitness as he continues his return from the thigh injury that has kept him on the sidelines all season.
"In Paris, we'll need to put in a complete performance, everyone will have to be at 120 per cent," said the LOSC boss. "We'll need to be brave, go forward to meet our opponents, stop them from pinning us back around our goal. We'll need to be good in our transitions. It'll be a Champions League-standard game."
PSG: Navas - Meunier, Thiago Silva (c), Kimpembe, Bernat - Gueye, Paredes, Sarabia - Di Maria, Icardi, Neymar Jr.
LOSC: Maignan - Celik, Fonte (c), Gabriel, Reinildo - Renato Sanches, André, Soumaré, Xeka - Rémy, Ikoné