Tuchel, Buffon set for league bows with PSG
By A. Scott
Thomas Tuchel makes his home debut as coach of Paris Saint-Germain as the reigning Ligue 1 Conforama champions begin their title defence against SM Caen at the Parc des Princes on Sunday evening.
Paris Saint-Germain - SM Caen
A year on from the world record signing of Neymar Jr and the similarly earth shattering move to sign Kylian Mbappé, it has been a far quieter close season in Paris, with the new arrivals being limited to a new coach in Tuchel as well as Italian goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon.
The German Tuchel last appeared publicly at the Parc des Princes the day after the old season ended, when he was unveiled as the successor to Unai Emery on a two-year deal. Emery's final campaign in charge concluded with a clean sweep of the domestic honours, with PSG being crowned French champions for the fifth time in six seasons. For Tuchel, the aim is to continue that domestic dominance while also doing better in Europe after Emery oversaw consecutive exits from the UEFA Champions League in the last 16.
The former Borussia Dortmund coach did not have an easy start to the job though, with pre-season preparations hampered by the absence of so many stars who featured at the World Cup, including Mbappé, one of the standout performers during France's victorious campaign in Russia. PSG lost to Bayern Munich and Arsenal in warm-up matches before beating Atlético Madrid 3-2 and then destroying AS Monaco 4-0 in the Trophée des Champions in China last weekend.
Watch: PSG's top three goals from 2017-18
That result was achieved with half of Tuchel's likely first-choice starting line-up missing, with Neymar only appearing as a late substitute. Ángel di María scored twice for Paris either side of goals from Christopher Nkunku and Timothy Weah, and Tuchel was later showered in champagne by his players at his post-game press conference.
'A footballing legend'
Buffon, who is now 40, played in that game too and will hope to see off competition from Kevin Trapp and returning World Cup winner Alphonse Aréola to keep the goalkeeper's gloves into the start of the league campaign.
"Buffon is a footballing legend who has won almost everything. It is good to have someone like him, with his experience and his maturity. At his age he still has lots of ambition. That is what PSG want," centre-back Marquinhos told sports daily L'Equipe.
While many eyes will be on the new faces at the Parc des Princes, Neymar appears ready to make his first appearance in front of the Paris support in more than five months since suffering the foot injury against Olympique de Marseille that curtailed the last campaign for him. However, Mbappé has only just returned to training so Tuchel would perhaps be wise to go gently with the teenage superstar.
It is just four weeks since the World Cup concluded and the state of fitness of the players who were involved deep into the competition in Russia could make the start of the 2018-19 season slightly tricky for Tuchel and PSG. Nevertheless, fans will be hoping for a more inspiring encounter than the 0-0 draw these teams played out in Normandy on the final day of last season.
All change at Caen
That match was Emery's last with PSG and it also allowed Caen to secure their Ligue 1 Conforama survival for another year. Since then they have undergone a summer of considerable change, with a new president taking over at the Stade Michel d'Ornano in Gilles Sergent, and a new coach being appointed too in the shape of Fabien Mercadal.
With the long-serving Patrice Garande departing after six years at the helm, Mercadal has made the step up to the top flight after doing so well across the capital last season with Paris FC in Domino's Ligue 2. They finished just outside the promotion play-off places, and Mercadal has brought the striker Malik Tchokounté with him to Normandy for this new chapter in their careers.
Watch: Caen's top three goals from 2017-18
"I have been doing this job for a few years now with the idea in one corner of my mind being to go as high as I possibly can," Mercadal said as he prepared for the campaign. "For me, it goes without saying that we want survival, so that is not an objective. Our objective is to have as good a season as possible."
Caen finished 16th last season, scoring a paltry 27 league goals. They have since lost their top scorer Ivan Santini to Belgian giants RSC Anderlecht, while defensive rock Damien Da Silva has gone to Stade Rennais FC and other key players such as goalkeeper Rémy Vercoutre and playmaker Julien Féret have gone as well.
However, new faces have come in alongside Tchokounté. Midfielder Prince Oniangué has returned to a club he previously left as a 16-year-old, while Casimir Ninga and Yacine Bammou have joined from Montpellier Hérault SC and FC Nantes respectively. In addition, Fayçal Fajr has come back to the club after four years in Spain as Caen chase a first win in Paris in 11 years.
Paris SG: Buffon; Dagba, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Nsoki; Nkunku, Diarra, Rabiot; Di Maria, Weah, Neymar
Caen: Samba; Armougom, Genevois, Djiku, Mbengue; Peeters, Oniangué, Fajr; Rodelin, Tchokounté, Ninga