Soccer

No Messi no problem for Paris Saint-Germain against Clermont, but will PSG be ready for bigger tests ahead?

PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain eased to a 4-0 victory over Clermont Foot 63 on Saturday which maintained the French giants winning start to the season and inflicted a first defeat on the Ligue 1 newcomers through two Ander Herrera goals and additional second half Kylian Mbappe and Idrissa Gueye efforts.

Despite the absences of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Angel Di Maria after international duty in South America and Marco Verratti through injury, the makeshift starting XI concocted by Mauricio Pochettino still had enough quality to blow away the newly-promoted visitors who were missing their star attacker Mohamed Bayo.

Mbappe scored for the fourth time to now lead Le Championnat with four goals scored and PSG’s superior quality told in the form of Herrera’s brace and Gueye’s headed finish but that was all expected and so far, the capital outfit are simply doing what is asked of them — beating the teams put in front of them.

Of course, the UEFA Champions League is about to start and that routinely brings added focus at Parc des Princes but there is also a feeling that even Club Brugge away should be another straightforward result with the visit of Olympique Lyonnais domestically and Manchester City in Europe before the end of the month the real tests.

Such a commanding victory with so many established stars missing should not be dismissed but equally, Pascal Gastien’s Clermont have a largely untried group of players at this level and despite a good start to the campaign, are expected to slip back down towards the lower reaches of the top-flight table before too long.

PSG had VAR to thank for clearing up the confusion surrounding Herrera’s opener with Mbappe’s potential involvement investigated but the Spaniard’s second and Gueye’s effort to make it four were simply logical end products of the pressure that the hosts managed to build up in the face of a spirited Lancier side who tried to play actual soccer in the French capital.

Perhaps of greater interest was a second clean sheet of the season with five goals conceded across the opening five fixtures and the likes of summer recruit Sergio Ramos yet to get anywhere near the starting XI due to the injury issues which have plagued him since his arrival on a free transfer from Real Madrid.

Messi, Neymar, Di Maria, and Leandro Paredes will almost certainly be back in Belgium while unused substitutes such as Keylor Navas and Georginio Wijnaldum and debutants Gianluigi Donnarumma and Nuno Mendes will give Pochettino a harder time in constructing his starting XI than for the reception of Clermont.

With all of this said, PSG are currently on course to make a good run at an unbeaten domestic term which is something that has always felt within the team’s capabilities yet has not come to fruition in the decade that the Ligue 1 giants have been under Qatari ownership. But the current evidence is that this could develop into the best chance yet, and really when you sign Messi, that’s no less than you’d expect.

None of last season’s title rivals have shown anything like the same form so far in 2021-22 with champions Lille OSC off the early pace before the Champions League even gets underway, AS Monaco dropping into the UEFA Europa League after a tough qualifying bout with Shakhtar Donetsk and Lyon looking disorganized in Peter Bosz’s early outings with Les Gones.

PSG’s bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille under Jorge Sampaoli and with a majorly retooled roster could yet develop into title challengers but they still have Europa League participation to contend with which could see them drop points — not to mention the controversial matter of a replay with OGC Nice after ugly scenes at Allianz Riviera.

All of this brings us to Christophe Galtier’s Aiglons who even though it is still early days are hitting the ground running under last campaign’s Ligue 1-winning coach with Lille and without continental competition to distract them, perhaps they are the team who can give PSG the most problems down the line.

For now, though, so far so good for Pochettino and PSG who are building up winning momentum straight out of the traps which they will be keen to translate onto the European stage with City and RB Leipzig to come at home in a challenging Group A.

Champions League is, once more, where the progress made by PSG and their new all-star squad will be judged and you can follow it all on your home of UCL action in Paramount+.



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