Without star trio, PSG turn to Icardi for Real challenge

Paris Saint-Germain forwards Mauro Icardi (left) and Neymar training ahead of their Champions League opener against Real Madrid today at the Parc des Princes. Icardi will be tasked with leading the attack, with fellow attackers Neymar suspended while
Paris Saint-Germain forwards Mauro Icardi (left) and Neymar training ahead of their Champions League opener against Real Madrid today at the Parc des Princes. Icardi will be tasked with leading the attack, with fellow attackers Neymar suspended while Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani are ruled out through injury. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PARIS • The visit of Real Madrid to the French capital today means a glamour tie for Paris Saint-Germain to kick off their Champions League campaign, but a meeting with the Spanish La Liga giants also brings back unhappy memories.

When the clubs last met in Europe two seasons ago, the Ligue 1 champions, hamstrung by an injured Neymar, were dumped out in the last 16.

That was one of three consecutive exits at the same stage for PSG, who have failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals despite the billions spent by their Qatari owners since their 2011 takeover.

So the question at the start of another campaign is: Can Thomas Tuchel's team at least reach the semi-finals of Europe's elite club competition this time?

Since 2012, PSG have beaten only three teams in a Champions League knockout tie - Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea.

This campaign, Tuchel's men will be eager to make a statement. With Galatasaray and Club Brugge being the other teams in Group A, it would be a surprise if PSG failed to progress, even with Neymar suspended for the first two games.

The Brazil forward yesterday earned a reprieve following an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which saw a reduction of his three-match ban for insulting match officials on social media after the United loss, freeing him up to face Brugge on Oct 22.

A SECOND CHANCE

He is one of the best strikers in the world... at PSG, Icardi has the opportunity to achieve many goals.

MANICHE, former Portugal midfielder, on Mauro Icardi.

Also missing will be Neymar's fellow front men Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani, who are out with respective hamstring and hip problems, when Real turn up at the Parc des Princes.

The star trio netted 11 of PSG's 20 goals in the Champions League last season, and in their absence, Tuchel will have to give Mauro Icardi his first start for the club.

The Argentina striker signed on loan on transfer deadline day, and while his predatory instincts have never been in doubt, with 124 goals in 219 appearances for Inter Milan, it remains to be seen whether off-field issues will again cloud his time in Paris as in Milan.

A contract dispute instigated by his agent-wife Wanda Nara saw him stripped of the captaincy last term.

But former Portugal midfielder Maniche believes Icardi can flourish in his new surroundings.

He told website JuveNews.eu: "He is one of the best strikers in the world... at PSG, Icardi has the opportunity to achieve many goals."

In a twist of fate, Keylor Navas will also attempt to shut out Real - who are missing injured quartet Marcelo, Isco, Luka Modric and Marco Asensio besides suspended Sergio Ramos - as he makes his first European start for PSG against his former club, where he spent five years before moving in the summer.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2019, with the headline 'Without star trio, PSG turn to Icardi for Real challenge'. Print Edition | Subscribe