PARIS (AP)A home game against modest Auxerre would usually not be something for Paris Saint-Germain to worry about.
But these are not usual circumstances.
Sunday’s match is the French league leader’s last game before the World Cup. PSG’s big names are keen to avoid last-minute injuries that have hit other players hard in the past couple of weeks.
So PSG coach Christophe Galtier must decide whether to rest record seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi after the Argentina star out last Sunday’s game because of some inflammation on his Achilles tendon.
Does he leave out France standout Kylian Mbappe, who came off last weekend against Lorient with some muscle fatigue? And what about Neymar, whose superb form for PSG has Brazil fans dreaming of a record-extending sixth World Cup title? He’s also closing in on Pele’s national scoring record, and it would be cruel for him if he missed out on the World Cup.
Same for club and country teammate Marquinhos, PSG’s captain and best center back.
Then there’s central defender Presnel Kimpembe, hampered by a six-week hamstring injury and a recent Achilles Tendon problem. He really needs game time to get some sharpness back, but will Galtier risk him given that France opens its World Cup campaign against Australia on Nov. 22?
Both Messi and Kimpembe resumed training with the rest of the squad on Thursday but it’s a headache for Galtier deciding if they play on Sunday and, if so, for how long.
There are several questions for Galtier to address and another issue thrown in. Given PSG’s comfortable lead of five points over second-place Lens – which is effectively six with PSG’s vastly superior goal difference – he doesn’t really need to pick a full-strength side.
It’s only one game and won’t overly impact the title race, even if his side loses. Yet fielding a weakened side wouldn’t be fair on other teams who may be scrapping with Auxerre to stay up at the end of the season.
Auxerre is hovering above the relegation zone and even a draw at Parc des Princes could potentially help it stay up by one point on the last day of the season. Relegated rivals could then point to Sunday’s game against a weakened PSG as a contributing factor.
Auxerre has made a tricky return to the top flight after being promoted last season, and the Burgundy-based club sits in 15th place.
The 1996 French champion has won only one of its past five games and three matches overall. Striker M’Baye Niang is the main threat up front but has only two league goals so far.
The defense has leaked 26 goals in 14 matches for an average of nearly two goals conceded per game and PSG has netted 38 at nearly three goals per game. In normal circumstances this should mean another goal-fest for PSG.
But it’s hard to picture Neymar and Mbappe thinking much about the race to finish as the French league’s top scorer – they are tied at the top with 11 goals – or Messi eagerly wanting to add to his league-high 10 assists.
Avoiding injury on Sunday is likely to be weighing more on their minds.
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