Mauricio Pochettino’s men will be expected to continue their form when they take on Reims. The club from the northeast are currently struggling at the wrong end of the league table, having collected only 24 points from 21 matches. Ekitike’s return should enable the Newcastle United-linked youngster to spearhead the Reims frontline, with the assistance of two advanced attackers in Nathanael Mbuku and Ilan Kebbal. Reims have no shortage of alternatives, as academy talents such as N’Dri Philippe Koffi and Alexis Flips also look to make an impact against the mighty PSG.
Reims are a bit short in midfield due to all the absentees, either due to AFCON or injuries. However, Les rouges et blancs have recently brought in Jens Cajuste from Midtjylland. The young Swede is expected to make his debut against PSG, partnering Dion Lopy in the double-pivot. Matusiwa could start ahead of Lopy if he is declared fit enough to do so. Elsewhere in the second line of press, wing-backs Thomas Foket and Bradley Locko could be key, with the former, in particular, being a crucial outlet on the counter. At the same time, they have to remain alert to the dangers posed by PSG’s wide players and help out the three-man backline, consisting of Andreaw Gravillon, Yunis Abdelhamid, Wout Faes.
In midfield, Idrissa Gueye remains out due to his participation at the Africa Cup of Nations, while Georginio Wijnaldum is out injured. Danilo Pereira is the favourite to return to the PSG setup by occupying the number six slot. The Portuguese international is set to play a crucial role in offering support for the backline and mopping up loose balls in the middle of the park.
Danilo is likely to be partnered by Ander Herrera and Marco Verratti, whose ability to carry the ball around the half-spaces could go a long way in helping PSG evade Reims’s second line of press. As for the defence, Achraf Hakimi and Abdou Diallo remain unavailable due to AFCON, while Juan Bernat is not fully fit. Even though Sergio Ramos is available, Pochettino is unlikely to make any changes from the defensive setup that faced Brest, with Nuno Mendes and Thilo Kehrer occupying the full-back roles, assisting the central defensive duo of Presnel Kimpembe and Marquinhos.
Reims are struggling with a host of unavailable players due to the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations. Ghislain Konan, Moussa Doumbia, and El Bilal Toure are some of the players still competing in the tournament, while Moreto Cassama is a doubt, despite Guinea-Bissau’s elimination. Meanwhile, Valon Berisha and Marshall Munetsi are struggling with fitness issues. On a positive note, star player Hugo Ekitike returns from suspension. Azor Matusiwa has recovered from his thigh problems as well and will be an option on Sunday.
Despite a seven-point advantage over their nearest relegation rivals, Reims are not out of the woods yet, and a defeat to PSG could open the door for the likes of Troyes, Metz and Lorient to make some ground ahead of the international break. Other than a 2-0 win back in the 2019/20 campaign, Stade de Reims have not had much success against PSG in recent years. They are yet to score a single goal against Les Parisiens in their last three league meetings. PSG clinched a 2-0 win in the reverse fixture earlier this season, and Mauricio Pochettino will be hoping for a similar result this time out.
With speculation over Kylian Mbappe’s future continuing to rumble on in the background, the 23-year-old did his talking on the pitch for PSG during the visit of Brest last Saturday, firing home a sublime opener in the 32nd minute to set his side on the way to a routine win. Thilo Kehrer’s taste for goals continued with his side’s second on the night – now two in his last two Ligue 1 games for the right-back – as PSG responded to a spate of stalemates in ideal fashion, but Brest certainly threatened an upset in the capital.
However, through a combination of staunch defending and good fortune, the runaway leaders posted yet another win and clean sheet to boost their title bid, and an 11-point chasm separates Pochettino’s men from closest challengers Nice with over half of the season now gone. As Les Parisiens continue to ride off into the sunset in Ligue 1, Pochettino may already have one eye on his side’s impending Champions League last-16 showdown with Real Madrid, and the difficult fixtures pile up before then with Lille, Nice and Rennes all lying in wait.
The importance of a resounding win this weekend therefore cannot be understated for PSG, who have won 12 of their 13 home games in all competitions this season – scoring at least two goals in all of those victories – and one would expect another goal-laden performance here. Despite steadying the ship over the autumnal and festive period, Reims still have some work to do to drag themselves away from the dotted line for good, as Oscar Garcia’s side saw their momentum halted during a 1-0 home defeat to strugglers Metz last week.
Ibrahima Niane’s 61st-minute strike after a quick counter-attack settled the contest in Les Grenats’ favour, with Reims substitute Nathanael Mbuku trying but failing to restore parity with a spectacular bicycle kick from a free kick right at the death. On a brighter note, that 1-0 loss represents only a second defeat from 11 games for Les Rouges et Blancs – who have become renowned for their low-scoring affairs of late – and Garcia’s side sit 14th in the rankings ahead of Sunday’s game, seven points clear of danger
Start date: 24 Jan 2022 00:45
Location: Paris Venue: Parc des Princes
Referee: Eric Wattellier, France