Paris Saint-Germain will be aiming to get back to winning ways when they take on RC Lens at Stade Bollaert-Delelis on Saturday.

Paris Saint-Germain are the undisputed favourites to seal the Ligue 1 title this season. With just 16 matches played, they have an astounding 12-point lead at the top of the table, with very little indication of a title race.

However, Les Parisiens are experiencing a little rough patch lately. They have failed to win two of their last three matches, including a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City and a goalless draw with OGC Nice in the previous league game.

The disappointing results have stagnated PSG’s progress, even potentially allowing Marseille the chance to close the gap at the top to just nine, should they manage to win their extra game in hand.

One of the major issues for PSG this season has been their performance against strong and sturdy outfits. They lost to Manchester City last week, and in Ligue 1, they have dropped points against all of the other top four clubs in Rennes, Marseille and Nice. It is not good for Mauricio Pochettino, who has already faced criticism for his side’s lack of convincing performances this term.

PSG’s woes could continue up against a Lens side that is once again punching above their weights this season. After finishing seventh last term, Franck Haise’s men are cruising in fifth place in the current league table, trailing third-placed Rennes only by a couple of points.

Lens have shown the pedigree of performing against big teams in the past, notably securing a 1-0 win over PSG in the same fixture last season. They are hoping for a similar outcome this time out, and here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of their crucial match-up in Ligue 1 this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

RC Lens

Lens coach Franck Haise is missing a few key players heading into this game, including Wesley Said and Deiver Machado. However, the 50-year-old has no reason to shift away from his tried and tested 3-5-2 setup that will look to defend deep in their lines and use the numerical advantage in midfield to solidify the second line of press.

The two forwards upfront in Florian Sotoca and Arnaud Kalimuendo will look to hassle the PSG centre-backs in an attempt to create potential turnovers. They are also expected to serve as runners, although there is a slight uncertainty on the availability of Kalimuendo, as he will be up against his parent club.

Elsewhere, the Lens full-backs in Jonathan Clauss and Przemyslaw Frankowski will look to attack the flanks. But at the same time, they need to be aware of the influence of the marauding full-backs. Nevertheless, they remain one of the main sources of creativity for Lens, especially on the counter.

As for the midfield, the three-man setup should see Seko Fofana and Cheick Doucoure supporting Gael Kakuta, who is expected to operate in a slightly advanced role. The former Chelsea starlet should get the nod ahead of Yannick Cahuzac due to his recent form.

Defensively, the onus will be on the three-man backline consisting of Jonathan Gradit, Kevin Danso and Massadio Haidara to keep up with the mighty PSG frontline. Haidara could have the license to shift into a left-back during the attacking phase, though, with Clauss serving as an out and out winger.

Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Leca; Gradit, Danso, Haidara; Frankowski, Fofana, Kakuta, Doucoure, Clauss; Kalimuendo, Sotoca

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Paris Saint-Germain

PSG, meanwhile, have been boosted by the return of players like Marco Verratti and Sergio Ramos recently. At the same time, though, Neymar has been ruled out with a long-term injury, joining Julian Draxler, Georginio Wijnaldum and Ander Herrera in the club’s list of absentees heading into this game.

Verratti’s return should allow Mauricio Pochettino to remove Eric Ebimbe from the starting eleven. The Italian will hope to have a greater effect in PSG’s creative department, as he forms the three-man midfield setup alongside Idrissa Gueye and Danilo, although Pochettino also has the option of deploying his fellow countryman, Leandro Paredes.

In the attack, the absence of Neymar means the visitors may have to persist with Angel Di Maria on the right, thus forcing Lionel Messi to operate in a false nine role. However, the central role didn’t work all too well for the little Argentine last time, so we may see Di Maria being forced to play on the left hand side, with Kylian Mbappe dropping into the number nine slot and Messi featuring on his favoured right.

The former Barcelona icon can expect additional support from the marauding Achraf Hakimi on the right flank. Similarly, Nuno Mendes will hope to make an impact with his forays down the opposite flank, as the youngster looks to live up to his potential after a rough start to the season.

Defensively, Pochettino is likely to keep Sergio Ramos on the bench, with the veteran defender expected to start in midweek’s Champions League dead rubber against Club Brugge. With him on the bench, Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe will be able to continue their central defensive partnership as they look to secure a rare clean sheet.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Hakimi, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Mendes; Gueye, Danilo, Verratti; Messi, Mbappe, Di Maria

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Key Stats

  • Lens have won only one of their last 11 games against PSG in Ligue 1, but that was in the last meeting at home in the top-flight on 10 September 2020.
  • Paris have lost 34.8% of their encounters with Lens in Ligue 1 in the 21st century and have a worse losing percentage only against Rennes over this period among teams faced at least five times in the top-flight.
  • PSG have only won 27% of their away games against Lens in Ligue 1 in the 21st century (3/11) and are only doing worse at Lyon over this period among teams currently in the top-flight.
  • Lens have not won any of their last Ligue 1 matches, their longest drought this season.
  • PSG have the best scoring in the league so far, having netted 35 goals in 16 matches. Their tally of 15 goals conceded has been only bettered by Marseille, Rennes and Nice.

Player to Watch

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi was quite underwhelming in his recent appearance against Nice. He was unable to make a difference in the final third, and it appears the Ligue 1 clubs are really dealing with him well in these early parts of the campaign. As a result, Messi has netted only one goal in his first eight matches so far.

However, it was a similar story in La Liga last season as well, before the Argentine eventually finished the campaign as the league’s top goalscorer. But his job won’t be made easier by a Lens team that can defend well and can appear deadly on the counter. Messi’s lack of pressing, in that regard, might turn out to be a problem for the visitors.

Nevertheless, Les Parisiens will depend on Messi’s creativity and magic to breach the opposing defences and return to winning ways this weekend.

Prediction

RC Lens 1-2 Paris Saint-Germain

This promises to be a close affair given the fact that Lens are one of the toughest teams to beat in the Ligue 1 right now. They have a good defence, and more importantly, they are one of the lethal teams on the counter. It could be a problem for a PSG side that has proved to be quite vulnerable on the break, especially due to the marauding nature of the two full-backs.

Nevertheless, the visitors still remain the favourites to secure all three points this weekend, especially if the likes of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe or Angel Di Maria can take full use of their goalscoring opportunities in the final third.

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