Coupe de France 32emes : Stade Rennais v PSG
A repeat of last season’s Coupe de France match up, albeit a round earlier this time round, Rennes host runaway Ligue 1 leaders PSG on Sunday evening. The two sides also squared up against each other at Roazhon Park in the penultimate league fixture before the winter break so are pretty well acquainted.
In both of those fixtures the Parisian side put four goals past Rennes and with the form that PSG have shown so far this season, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see a similar outcome on Sunday. Unai Emery will have to do without top scorer Edinson Cavani, midfielder Javier Pastore and left back Layvin Kurzawa. The latter is out due to illness whilst Cavani and Pastore are paying the price for a delayed return from the winter break. Cavani has returned to the capital but Pastore has been declared “missing” in the PSG squad announcement.
With Cavani out and Lucas Moura also not included in the squad, it is likely Emery will go with a front three of Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, unless Julian Draxler is introduced in a more advanced role. It was this cup fixture last season that saw the German open his goal scoring account for PSG. In the recent league match, it was Neymar and Mbappe who ran riot with both making something of a return to form. Both will be eager to repeat that performance to get their 2018 off to a strong start. 18-year-old Stanley Nsoki has been called into the squad by Emery to provide left back cover, with some reports suggesting he could even be given a starting spot after impressing in training.
For Rennes, coach Sabri Lamouchi can enjoy a belated Christmas present with big summer signing Ismaila Sarr returning from a lengthy injury and is included in the squad. It will be exciting to see him finally link up with the in-form Wahbi Khazri. However, Lamouchi has hinted in his pre-match press conference that Sarr will be played in a wider role than he was under previous coach Christian Gourcuff. It was out on the wings for Metz that saw Sarr at his best, running at players with the ball at his feet and using his pace to break free. It’s a dimension that Rennes have been lacking and so whilst Sarr may only play a small part in Sunday’s game, it will be a welcome return for the Breton side. Mehdi Zeffane and Sanjin Prcic miss the game due to injury and with regular right back Hamari Traore suspended, club icon Romain Danze should return to the starting line up.
The squad announced by Lamouchi indicates there is a chance he will put out a pretty strong side, although he may be minded to remember there is a midweek Coupe de la Ligue quarter final to follow on Wednesday. Zeffane’s knock combined with Ludovic Baal suffering a relapse on his return from injury will mean a straight fight between Ramy Bensebaini and Afonso Figueiredo over who starts at left back, with the former likely to just get the nod. One name Rennes supporters will be hoping isn’t included in the starting line up will be Morgan Amalfitano with the midfielder something of a bad luck charm: in the 16 games in which he has made an appearance, Rennes have never won.
PSG responded to their shock defeat at Strasbourg by putting a combined 10 goals past their next three league opponents as well as netting four in the League Cup against the team that inflicted their only Ligue 1 defeat of the season. Rennes, meanwhile, saw their 2017 end disappointingly with two losses to PSG and Monaco. Prior to that though, Lamouchi had led his side to something of a recovery after a poor start to the season under Gourcuff. The return of Sarr could have a big impact, with Lamouchi citing him as their “first signing of the window”, so if he can play a part, then Rennes’ chances do improve; but even with that it’s difficult to see anything other than another PSG victory.