Dortmund beware: PSG are coming good at just the right time | Eric Devin

Dortmund beware: PSG are coming good at just the right time | Eric Devin

This was the situation Paris Saint-Germain faced on Wednesday night at the Stade du Moustoir: Luis Enrique sent out a heavily rotated team, the visitors having all but clinched the league title, and they were away to a Lorient side with talented individuals, fighting to stay in the top flight. It sounded like a recipe for dropped points and there is a precedent: PSG closed out the end of last season with a draw to Strasbourg and a loss to Clermont at home. The latter result certainly dampened the title celebrations at the Parc des Princes.

However, the leaders barely blinked, even with Achraf Hakimi, Warren Zaïre-Emery, Marquinhos, Bradley Barcola and Vitinha not travelling to Brittany. A brace each from Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé was more than PSG needed to put the hapless Merlus to the sword, 4-1.

Yes, one could argue that this is a Lorient side who have the league’s worst defence, but they have also sprung more than their fair share of surprises this season, including doing the double over Rennes and getting a pair of draws against second-placed Monaco. Moreover, it’s not as if PSG have not been taxed in recent weeks – besides their impressive Champions League win over Barcelona, they faced bitter rivals Lyon on Sunday (also a 4-1 win) and could have been forgiven a blip by dint of looking ahead to next week’s tie against Borussia Dortmund.

There were no such worries, and this match, more than the win over Lyon, showed just how focused and hungry Luis Enrique’s side are. They thoroughly outclassed their hosts despite starting a pair of teenagers in Senny Mayulu and Yoram Zague whose Ligue 1 careers had previously amounted to less than a combined 200 minutes.

So is this side finally ready to break its Champions League duck? On this evidence, perhaps so. Yes, the calibre of the opposition is certainly a mitigating factor, but with 15 goals in their last four matches, they are catching fire in attack in a way that has few parallels in Europe, even with the aforementioned heavy rotation.

To be sure, Mbappé has been a part of that, and he was impressive on Wednesday after being an unused substitute on Sunday, but more than anything, this side is showing its depth and its ability to offer a varied set of options in attack. It’s true that not all of their transfers have come off in their bid to rejuvenate what had been an ageing attacking core – Hugo Ekitiké has been the most obvious blunder in this regard – but the jury remains decidedly out on Randal Kolo Muani, who sometimes seems to struggle for comfort tactically under Luis Enrique.

Kylian Mbappé (right) and Gonçalo Ramos react after a chance goes begging but the pair have been in fine form of late. Photograph: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

Even so, though it has taken much of the season to coalesce, this team looks increasingly deep and varied in its attacking options, on the back of last summer’s acquisitions, namely Dembélé, Gonçalo Ramos and Barcola.

Dembélé has cut a frustrated figure at times this season, and has even been jeered for his lack of goals (his second of the season came in the second leg against Barcelona). Now, though, with four in three matches this month, he looks every bit the incisive live wire of a player he was signed to be. No one has more assists in Ligue 1 than his eight, and only Lille’s Edon Zhegrova has more dribbles.

Indeed, Dembélé may have scored 12 goals in his previous season in Ligue 1, with Rennes, but he has not hit double figures in any of the intervening seven campaigns in Germany or Spain. He is not a player for whom goals are a given, and without that expectation (and with time to form a working relationship with the likes of Mbappé and Ramos) he seems to be flourishing as he settles into his role in this team.

The same is true for Ramo, who led the line with an excellent display against Lyon at the weekend, scoring twice. For a €50m player, one might have expected more than 10 league goals, but that figure looks far more impressive when one considers it was achieved in less than 1,200 minutes. Like Dembélé, he also seems to becoming increasingly used to Luis Enrique’s tactical demands – seven of those 10 goals have been scored since the beginning of February.

Finally, Barcola also seems to be springing to life. Many were surprised when PSG stumped up €45m for the young winger on the back of an impressive few months at Lyon, but after moving past some niggling injuries, he has been one of the first names on the teamsheet of late, scoring in each of the last two rounds of the Champions League and in his last two league starts. As with Dembélé and Ramos, it’s been a process, and not always a simple one, but it appears that he and his fellow attackers are increasingly enjoying their football and are playing on the same wavelength.

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Add to this, of course, an Mbappé who looks no less motivated despite his impending departure, and Paris Saint-Germain look as dangerous a team as any remaining in the Champions League. One might stop short of anointing them as favourites but the other sides left in the competition will hardly be pleased to see how Luis Enrique’s cadre of summer transfers is finally coming good, and at just the right time.

Talking points

Finally, the rub of the green for Monaco. After withstanding an onslaught from visiting Lille, Adi Hütter’s injury and suspension-hit side grew into the match, securing a 1-0 win. The result puts the principality side five points ahead of Brest in third and six in front of Les Dogues, who remain fourth. Hütter was circumspect in the aftermath, doubling down on the need to stay focused against Lyon this weekend and a trio of more underwhelming opponents (Clermont, Nantes, Montpellier) to end the season, but assessment that it is “a big step towards the Champions League” is closer to the truth. After the heartbreak of the last two campaigns, Hütter is getting the best out of this side, and were it not for major injuries (Caio Henrique, Breel Embolo) and the Africa Cup of Nations, they probably could have run PSG closer.

From hero to ignominy – after a vital pair of goals off the bench in each of Marseille’s last two matches, Faris Moumbagna was given a start by Jean-Louis Gasset against arch-rivals Nice. With the team still (barely) in the race for the top seven in Ligue 1, he didn’t last until half-time, receiving a second booking in first-half stoppage time. Marseille scrapped for a draw and took the lead before Melvin Bard’s equaliser, but after the hosts finished with 10 men for the fifth time this season in the league, you have to wonder if they wouldn’t be more firmly ensconced in the top seven were their discipline of a higher standard.

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