PARIS: Under new coach Unai Emery and with a new-look squad following the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paris Saint-Germain begin their quest for a fifth consecutive Ligue 1 title at Bastia on Friday (Saturday in Manila).
Ibrahimovic dominated the French game during his four years at PSG but has moved on to Manchester United after scoring 113 Ligue 1 goals including a club-record 38 last season.
There has been no marquee name signed as the Swede’s replacement, but the capital side have recruited Hatem Ben Arfa on a free from Nice and completed the purchase on Monday of Real Madrid’s Jese Rodriguez to further boost their attack.
“This season we have not bought players at exorbitant sums but that doesn’t matter. It is important to invest your money well,” said club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi at Jese’s unveiling.
PSG have spent around 65 million euros ($72.6m, £55.8m) this summer, with Poland midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak following Emery from Sevilla and Belgium right-back Thomas Meunier arriving from Club Brugge.
Edinson Cavani will finally get his wish to be the main man in the Paris attack, although he is a doubt for the game at the Stade Armand-Cesari because of a thigh injury.
With Thiago Silva missing last week’s 4-1 Champions Trophy win against Lyon in Austria and Marquinhos away at the Olympics with Brazil, PSG may be light in defence, while Emery must choose between Kevin Trapp and Alphonse Areola in goal.
Bastia finished 10th last season but are usually strong at home, and Emery has rejected suggestions Ligue 1 will be easy despite PSG winning the title by a 31-point margin from runners-up Lyon last season under Laurent Blanc.
“If people say to me the league is easy, I respond that it’s easy if you work hard,” Emery told L’Equipe recently.
“PSG have won a lot, which means they have worked hard and worked well. We need to keep doing that while also trying to improve by going further in Europe.”
Monaco attack decimated
Monaco also open their campaign on Friday, entertaining Guingamp, now coached by former PSG boss Antoine Kombouare, at the Stade Louis II.
The principality club have already been in competitive action, beating Fenerbahce of Turkey in the Champions League third qualifying round.
They will face Villarreal in the play-offs, with the first leg to come in Spain next Wednesday.
Minds may well be on that, while Jardim’s attack will be decimated against Guingamp with Radamel Falcao and Vagner Love injured and Valere Germain suspended.
“The team is 100 percent ready. I think we are stronger now than in our first match of the season. Things have been positive so far with qualifying for the play-offs,” said Jardim, who could hand a first start to new signing Kamil Glik in defence.
He could also select exciting 17-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe, who is fresh from winning the European under-19 title with France last month.
Along with Monaco, Lyon are expected to be the closest challengers to PSG this season and Bruno Genesio’s men kick off their campaign at promoted Nancy on Sunday.
Lyon have lost Samuel Umtiti to Barcelona but have strengthened their defence with the signings of Nicolas Nkoulou from Marseille, Argentine prospect Emanuel Mammana and Poland’s Maciej Rybus.
Despite their sound beating by PSG last weekend, Genesio is hopeful his team can feature prominently once again.
“If we handle being back in the Champions League and can repeat our form from the last five months of last season, we can upset PSG,” Genesio told France Football.
Other key opening fixtures include Saint-Etienne at Bordeaux, Nice against Rennes and Marseille at home to Toulouse.