Paris Saint-Germain head coach Thomas Tuchel is a worried man.
He’s worried because over the coming months, his reputation and career is on the line. He’s worried because he doesn’t have the explicit support of his employers. And he’s worried because his team is dependent on the success of a couple of superstars both of whom are laid up injured.
For Wednesday’s key Champions League meeting away to RB Leipzig, he will not be able to call upon either Neymar or Kylian Mbappe. The absence of the Brazilian was one that the Parisians were braced for after he sustained a groin injury, but the failure of the World Cup winner to travel to Germany was somewhat of a surprise.
If the injury was not something that Tuchel had been expecting, it was certainly something that he feared.
“We're going to kill the players,” he warned 24 hours before Mbappe left Stade de la Beaujoire grimacing.
“That's what I've always said. We are going to kill them because there is an important link between preparation, performance and rest.
“In football it always falls on the greatest players because they will always play for their country.
“They play during the break, they travel and that's too much in my opinion. They don't have a recovery phase to allow them to come back and a preparation phase.
“That is not a secret, it happens in sport. Preparation influences injuries and performance.
“Without preparation, players are more fragile and difficult to manage. This is not an excuse, this is the truth. We are going to look for solutions and I hope we will find some.”
Mbappe’s current injury may be relatively slight, but the 21-year-old has been paying the price for a busy three months since PSG resumed competitive action after Covid-19 stopped play in France back in March.
He has seven goals and five assists in six Ligue 1 fixtures this season, plus two more decisive passes in two Champions League matches - statistics that even the greatest players would be proud of – but his play has lacked a little of its usual spark and consistency at the beginning of this campaign.
“The start of the season was difficult physically, but above all mentally, as we had no time to prepare,” he told the club’s official website in October.
“It was unique. It's a unique year and we have to adapt to it, but mentally it's difficult to get back on it. In my mind, and there are several of us who feel this, it's not a new season. It's as if last season has just continued. For me, we are at the 60th match of the season, and not the ninth match of the new season.
“Normally, after the final of the Champions League, whether you win or lose, you head off on holiday, or you have an international competition and then head on holiday. Whatever happens, you take a break from football, you recharge your batteries in order to be effective and you prepare for the new season.”
His impressive early-season numbers mask a more concerning statistic for PSG; Mbappe is on a run of six Champions League matches without a goal. It is the worst sequence of his career, and while minor injuries have certainly played their part, the sapping fixture list lies at the heart of the problem.
For Tuchel, meanwhile, it is a tremendous headache made worse by the fact that PSG’s 2-1 loss to Manchester United on the opening night has left them in a tight spot.
They might have beaten Leipzig 3-0 barely 10 weeks ago in the Champions League semi-finals yet few would bet on a repeat given PSG’s injury problems and their clear reliance on their absent superstars.
Instead, it will fall upon Angel Di Maria to lead them in Germany. He scored one and created the other two when the sides met in Lisbon, and curiously benefits from having ended a four-match domestic ban that has artificially limited his involvement this season.
Along with the in-form Moise Kean and the unpredictable Pablo Sarabia, they will lead the PSG charge against the Bundesliga outfit. And they will do so in front of a midfield comprising three players whose strengths are defensive.
PSG, after all, have been built with the presumption that both Neymar and Mbappe will be fit and starting – and sufficiently strong to cause chaos without the need for creativity behind them. Without them, PSG are not the same side.
No wonder Tuchel is worried.