Paris Saint-Germain will be without midfielder Marco Verratti, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, left-back Layvin Kurzawa and right-back Dani Alves against Liverpool at Anfield in Tuesday’s Champions League Group C opener.
Alphonse Areola is no downgrade between the sticks, while Thomas Meunier, largely thanks to his age, is arguably a better option on the right of defence and Juan Bernat represents a logical alternative on the left.
However, there is no replacement for Verratti in the middle — central defender Marquinhos has looked out of place when used as a defensive midfielder already this season, while veteran Lassana Diarra is already experiencing injury issues this campaign.
The Italy international’s unavailability because of his red card against Real Madrid in last term’s round of 16 makes it risky for PSG coach Thomas Tuchel to try the loose 3-4-3 formation that he has tried to implement season.
That means, the German tactician may elect to stick with the French champions’ familiar 4-3-3 shape or go with a 4-2-3-1. Whatever Tuchel does decide, he will not be fielding his strongest starting XI and may well be unable to do so for some time to come.
Finding the right partners for Adrien Rabiot in midfield will not be easy, with Angel Di Maria another option as Tuchel bids to keep the Argentina international’s good start to the campaign going.
Diarra’s experience makes him an obvious option to feature, something that Tuchel recognised in his pre-match news conference, while Marquinhos’ recent trials in a No. 6 role have been unimpressive at best.
The 45-year-old has little other choice, though, after sporting director Antero Henrique failed to deliver reinforcement in central midfield for the second consecutive summer transfer window.
Verratti served up a reminder of what he brings to the PSG side with a delightful assist for Julian Draxler against Saint-Etienne last week but no other player available to Tuchel can replicate the pint-sized Azzurri star’s ability.
Had the 25-year-old not been suspended, there would have been question marks over his fitness as Saint-Etienne was his first Ligue 1 outing this term, but even a semi-fit Verratti would have given his boss greater flexibility than he current has.
Attack, as you would expect with Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar will not be a problem, but getting them involved as often as possible will be.
The defence is yet to truly convince either but getting PSG’s star three up top into the match will be the biggest challenge and that is why Tuchel would be wise to put his faith in Di Maria. After all, the former Real Madrid man did help inspire the Spaniards to Champions League success in his final season at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Tuchel has started to utilise his players according to their natural position, wherever possible, so we are unlikely to see Julian Draxler in midfield and Marquinhos is only there out of sheer desperation.
Had Diarra been fitter and not forced to exit at half-time against Saint-Etienne last week, his case to start would have been stronger — particularly considering his experience. The France international will likely be on the bench, though and if he does start, Tuchel will be taking a big risk early on.
Rabiot needs to come to the fore once again and show exactly why he is one of the most coveted names in European football right now while whoever joins him in the middle must be prepared to give it everything to win the ball back and move it up the pitch as quickly as possible.
If those things happen, then perhaps Verratti’s absence can be compensated for. However, it is a far from ideal opening match to be without such a metronomic presence and PSG will have their work cut out for them if they are to emerge from Anfield with a positive result.