Saturday 3 August, 1.00pm
In our first look at the key contenders for the Champions League, James Eastham argues that Paris Saint-Germain's enforced break will mean they are fresh for an assault on the tournament...
"PSG's stunning performance in their 9-0 friendly victory over Le Havre underlined their desire to walk away with the Champions League trophy for the first time in their history when the competition is played to a conclusion in August."
Sensational win in first friendly outing
PSG made their comeback in thrilling fashion when they thrashed Ligue 2 Le Havre by a stunning 9-0 scoreline in a friendly on Sunday (July 12).
Even accounting for the fact that they were facing young, inferior opposition, PSG were supremely impressive on their return to action after four months away and underlined their desire to win the Champions League for the first time in their history when the competition is played to a conclusion in August.
"I spoke to [PSG sporting director] Leonardo before the game and he told me that the PSG players are totally zoned in, they're already in great shape," said beaten Le Havre manager Paul Le Guen - himself a former PSG great - after the game. "Their appetite is there - they have a very clear objective in their heads."
Neymar, Mauro Icardi and Pablo Sarabia all scored twice while Kylian Mbappe, Idrissa Gueye and youngster Arnaud Kalimuendo got on the scoresheet as well. Next up are friendlies against Shamrock Rovers and Celtic on July 17 and July 21 respectively before PSG's first two competitive outings of the season: on July 24 they face St Etienne in the postponed Coupe de France final and on July 31 meet Lyon in the postponed Coupe de la Ligue final. Those two games completed, they will then head for their Champions League quarter-final showdown against Atalanta in Lisbon on August 12.
Long break potential advantage
Given how fresh, focused and sharp the PSG players looked against Le Havre, you have to ask if the French League's decision to suspend the 2019-20 league season in April has actually turned out to be the perfect preparations for attempts to become only the second French club in history - after Marseille in 1993 - to win Europe's premier club trophy. The players were clearly champing at the bit against Le Havre and their extra energy and freshness relative to their rivals could turn out to be a real advantage when the action gets underway in the Portuguese capital.
By the time the quarter-final happens, opponents Atalanta will have played 13 competitive fixtures in the space of 43 days from mid-June to early August. That's an average of a game every 3.3 days for six weeks before they get a short break and then face PSG in the last-eight clash. The team from Paris, in contrast, will have played their three friendlies and then taken part in those two rearranged domestic cup finals. If fresh legs are to prove the difference, there will be only one winner.
Paris will have a similar freshness advantage over whichever of Atletico Madrid or Red Bull Leipzig they face in the semi-final and then - should they get that far - in the final. Freshness isn't everything, although you sense that, after the hectic schedule so many teams have faced during rearranged seasons, it might be the crucial factor.
Third favourites to claim the trophy
PSG are the tournament's [6.2] third favourites, behind Manchester City [4.7] and Bayern Munich [5.0]. Their price may get bigger when the quarter-final line-up is complete and we know who the final eight will be to compete in Lisbon. The team from the French capital are also a tempting [2.64] in the 'To Reach the Final' category, while they're [2.2] to win in 90 minutes against Atalanta, with the Serie A side [3.15] and The Draw [3.85].
"The challenge is to arrive in Lisbon with two trophies in the bag. After that we'll have 12 days to prepare for the game against Atalanta. So let's take it step by step," said PSG manager Thomas Tuchel (pictured above) after the victory over Le Havre. The first step was impressive, and the early signs are that PSG are in better shape to win this competition than they ever have been in the past.
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Saturday 3 August, 1.00pm