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Rest can wait as World Cup stars Mbappe, Neymar and Hakimi prepare for PSG call of duty

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 27 Dec 2022

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Christophe Galtier insists there is no risk involved in throwing his World Cup stars straight back into Ligue 1 action.

The likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Achraf Hakimi are poised to face Strasbourg on Wednesday as the French top flight cranks into gear once more.

A six-week break for domestic duty has seen PSG’s star names experience the roller coaster emotions and intense scrutiny of national team duty at the highest level.

Hakimi helped Morocco make history by becoming Africa’s first semi-finalists, while Neymar had an injury-plagued campaign that ended with Brazil’s defeat on penalties to Croatia in the quarter-finals.

Mbappe then experienced the cruellest of fates when he became just the second man to hit a hat-trick in a World Cup final, only to finish as a runner-up after France’s spot-kicks loss to Argentina.

Ten days will have passed since that loss at Lusail Stadium when Mbappe steps out to face lowly domestic rivals, and Galtier said: “I don’t think there is a risk.

“They wanted to get to play in these very important league games. Of course, we will need to manage things in the coming weeks to see how Achraf Hakimi and Kylian Mbappe cope.

“We are thinking about that and we will need to find the fight time for them to rest.”

That rest is likely to come sooner rather than later, given PSG have Champions League commitments from February, but for now Galtier believes his players are reliable judges of their readiness to play.

Head coach Galtier saw PSG pull five points clear of second-placed Lens before the World Cup, and with a trip to Stade Bollaert-Delelis coming up on Sunday, the Strasbourg game might be seen by outsiders as a soft landing before the first big test arrives.

Galtier sees it as nothing of the sort, warning the 19th-placed visitors are “playing for their lives” and suggesting PSG’s previous form counts for nothing.

Strasbourg have won just one of 15 league games to date this season, while unbeaten PSG have 41 points from the same number of matches.

Strasbourg also have the highest expected goals against total in Ligue 1 this season (28.52 xGA), signalling their opponents have been able to create a high number of good goalscoring chances, while PSG have the lowest (15.06 xGA) and have shipped just nine goals.

PSG are unbeaten in 31 home games against Strasbourg in Ligue 1 (W24 D7), too, the longest such streak against a specific opponent by a Ligue 1 team without ever losing.

On paper, therefore, there is little for Strasbourg to cling to. PSG have not lost at home in their past 36 home games spanning all competitions (W30 D6), since losing to Manchester City in the Champions League in April of last year.

Perhaps the only saving grace for the team from Alsace is they will not have to face World Cup winner Lionel Messi, who has been granted an extended break by PSG.

Galtier knows anything less than three points would be a disappointment, which is why he is preparing the team with the utmost seriousness and backing them to respond.

“If you just focus on the table that would be a big mistake,” Galtier said.

“We are starting from scratch. That is what I said to my players. We had a very good start to the season and we know why that was. The players a had a serious approach. They were demanding. They showed determination and humility.

“They want to achieve something together and all of us need to be in the same mindset tomorrow come kick-off.”

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