PSG need to be alert or they will be punished again away to Nice
PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain will take on Nice at the unusual hour of 1pm at Allianz Riviera on Sunday in the toughest test of the French capital outfit's post-Real Madrid Champions League exit resolve so far.
PSG have little left to motivate them to perform well without continental competition but still have plenty that they can achieve domestically -- such as the capital club's first 100-point haul in Ligue 1 and another clean sweep of trophies.
In an effort to capture the attention of the Asian audience, the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) have scheduled the kick-off much earlier than usual -- which might impact the crowd -- but Les Parisiens will have to make light of that and stay motivated against Lucien Favre's hosts.
Nice beat PSG 3-1 towards the end of last season, totally blowing the men from the capital away, and although this campaign has been much harder for Les Aiglons, they are still capable of a one-off replica of that showing -- as Unai Emery knows.
"We are expecting a tough game," the Spaniard said at his pre-match news conference on Friday. "Nice will be playing with a lot of desire in front of a big home crowd.
"They had a great season last year and we lost 3-1 there. It was a very tough match. This is a good challenge for us, and we want to show how good we are and how well we can play away from home.
"We will need to be focused, committed, and play the game on our own terms against a side that enjoy the possession and are hard to pressure. It is a good challenge for us."
PSG's players need to share the same outlook as Emery and view Nice away as an opportunity to prove that their Champions League loss to Real over two legs has not completely destroyed the season.
Emery has been making the right noises about taking Nice seriously and he has hinted that that he will be going as strong as possible with his starting XI, reverting to established starters like goalkeeper Alphonse Areola over substitute Kevin Trapp.
"We have two very good goalkeepers," said the Basque tactician at Camp des Loges. "Kevin deserved to have his chance against Angers because he is working very well and is aiming for a place at the World Cup with Germany.
"In Nice, Alphonse will return between the posts. We are very happy with both of them. I spoke with the goalkeeping coach (Javi Garcia) and he suggested that Kevin play on Wednesday to have some rhythm for the Coupe de la Ligue final. Both will get the chance to play."
In PSG's last three matches, wins away at Troyes, as well as victories at home to Metz and Angers, Emery has utilised many members of the Ligue 1 leaders' youth academy -- notably Christopher Nkunku and Timothy Weah -- with largely positive results.
Nkunku scored three times during those games, while Weah has taken his first steps in professional football, but despite that progress, only one has made the squad, as Emery is keen to go full strength.
Nice aside, the American starlet remains important to PSG, but his coach is keen to finish the season as strongly as possible, so his decision to go with as many known quantities as possible is understandable.
However, against teams weaker than the likes of Nice, Emery should definitely continue to involve Weah and keep rewarding Nkunku for performing well when he has been utilised.
With a return to normality expected, as far as the starting XI is concerned, Areola is likely to play behind a back four of Thomas Meunier, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Yuri Berchiche, with Lassana Diarra or Giovani Lo Celso joining Marco Verratti and Adrien Rabiot in the midfield three.
Up top, with no Neymar, it is a straightforward decision for Emery and he will almost certainly start Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria either side of Edinson Cavani, unless he chooses to reward Julian Draxler for a good performance against Angers or Nkunku for his recent scoring exploits.
Whichever selection Emery goes for, PSG should beat seventh-placed Nice, despite the Cote d'Azur outfit's recent domestic revival after an awful start to the campaign.
However, if Emery is unable to motivate his players to take their first significant fixture post-Real seriously, Les Parisiens could find themselves punished like they were last term.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.