An injury to a key player is once again threatening to derail a Champions League campaign for Paris Saint-Germain with Kylian Mbappe having been ruled out of the first leg of their last-16 tie against Bayern Munich.
Mbappe suffered the injury to his left thigh in the first half of PSG’s 3-1 win at Montpellier in midweek and had to come off, having already twice missed a penalty in the early stages of the match.
It raises questions about PSG’s handling of a player who starred for France at the World Cup right to the end, scoring a hat-trick in the final against Argentina, but then opted to make an immediate return to training with his club.
He was eventually afforded a week’s holiday at the start of January but he has not looked as sharp as usual — his only Ligue 1 goal since the World Cup was a penalty against Strasbourg on December 28.
PSG have said Mbappe will be sidelined for around three weeks, meaning he could miss three key Ligue 1 games as well as a French Cup last-16 tie in Marseille.
While he will hope to be back in time for the second leg of that Champions League tie against Bayern on March 8, PSG must now hope that the presence of Lionel Messi and Neymar can be enough for them in the first game against the Germans on February 14.
In recent seasons the injury headaches have usually been caused by Neymar, who has had a tendency to suffer from fitness issues just before big European ties.
But there must also be doubts about who can take Mbappe’s place in the team, given that a January transfer deadline-day move for Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech fell through, Pablo Sarabia has left the club and centre-forward Hugo Ekitike may still be too raw for a huge Champions League tie.
Whatever happens, it is a stinging blow to lose Mbappe now after PSG pushed the boat out to offer him a new contract last year in order to lead the club’s latest charge for European glory.
In the meantime PSG have at least extended their cushion at the top of Ligue 1 to five points and Saturday’s visit of mid-table Toulouse will give coach Christophe Galtier the chance to look at other options.
Galtier has already been struggling to find a suitable system for his team in recent games, switching from a three-man central defence to a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2.
One player who will hope to make more of an impact is Warren Zaire-Emery, the gifted midfielder who is not 17 until next month but scored his first Ligue 1 goal against Montpellier.
Player to watch: Vitinha
The 22-year-old Portuguese prospect was a surprise deadline-day signing by Marseille, who arrived from Braga for a fee that could reach a total of 32 million euros ($34.9m). He has scored 13 times for Braga this season and his arrival boosts a Marseille side sitting second in the Ligue 1 table.
Vitinha opted to join the former European champions despite reported interest in him from Premier League clubs such as Brighton and Hove Albion, Southampton and Aston Villa.
“They were my first choice because OM are a historic club and one that is renowned around the world. It was an easy decision,” he said.
4 – Mbappe has not scored in any of his last four Ligue 1 appearances. You have to go back to the spring of 2018 to find a longer drought.
13 – Bottom club Angers have set a new French top-flight record by losing their last 13 games in a row.
10 – Rennes are on a club record run of 10 straight home wins.
Fixtures (kick-offs GMT)
Paris Saint-Germain v Toulouse (1600), Troyes v Lyon (1800), Rennes v Lille (2000)
Clermont v Monaco (1200), Ajaccio v Nantes, Auxerre v Reims, Lorient v Angers, Strasbourg v Montpellier (all 1400), Brest v Lens (1605), Marseille v Nice (1945)