PARIS (AFP) - Four months after French football ground to a standstill as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, Paris Saint-Germain head into Friday's (July 24) national cup final against Saint-Etienne looking to land the first of a potential three titles in a five-match burst.
Declared Ligue 1 champions for the seventh time in eight years after the season was ended prematurely, PSG return to competitive action 135 days later with the French Cup, French League Cup and Champions League in their sights.
Unlike their last fixture on March 11, a 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund behind closed doors that sealed a place in the Champions League quarter-finals, a limited number of fans will be allowed to attend the French Cup final.
The fixture at the Stade de France marks the return of French football, lagging well behind the rest of Europe's top leagues which eventually restarted despite the health crisis.
PSG have shown little rustiness in dispatching a trio of friendly opponents - Le Havre, Waasland-Beveren and Scottish champions Celtic - with 20 goals scored and none conceded.
For Saint-Etienne, the Covid-19 interruption allowed them to turn the page on a dismal league campaign in which they finished 17th - a far cry from their fourth-placed effort in 2018-19.
"The goal was to avoid injuries and come into the final with fresh legs and clear minds. We're ready to play," said PSG coach Thomas Tuchel.
"It's a very important match after a long break. No team has ever done that. We want to win."
'HISTORIC AND STRANGE'
PSG captain Thiago Silva hopes to sign off on an eight-year spell at the club with a raft of trophies, having signed a short-term extension through August.
"The truth is I didn't want to leave but the decision has been taken and I respect it," said Silva, who has helped PSG to four of their record 12 French Cup triumphs.
"It's a different time to any other, it's historic and strange," he added.
"To stop for four months like that, it's not easy to then get back to the highest level."
Friday's showdown is a repeat of the 1982 final, won by PSG on penalties following a 2-2 draw in which Michel Platini scored twice for Saint-Etienne.
It was PSG's first major title and also the last time Saint-Etienne reached the final.
"We're not favourites. Our goal is to enjoy ourselves, play our trump card and be in the match. I hope we let loose, we have nothing to lose," said Saint-Etienne boss Claude Puel.
French President Emmanuel Macron will be in attendance as is tradition, but fewer than 5,000 spectators will be permitted at the 80,000-seater venue as part of stringent health regulations.
Saint-Etienne supporters have said they will boycott the match after receiving an allocation of just 900 tickets.
However, the occasion will provide Tuchel the chance to atone for last year's final defeat by Rennes in a penalty shootout, as PSG failed to win at least one of the two domestic cups for the first time since 2013.
PSG return to the Stade de France on July 31 to face Lyon in the French League Cup final.
They will then head to Lisbon to play Atalanta on Aug 12 in the quarter-finals of a Champions League "Final Eight".
The tournament will be played in a straight knockout format due to the difficulties caused by the coronavirus, with PSG dreaming of a remarkable quadruple to celebrate the club's 50-year anniversary.