The task facing Paris Saint-Germain might be even more daunting than it first seemed.
After losing the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Manchester City, the Ligue 1 champions could now be without Kylian Mbappe for tonight’s decider.
The talismanic forward, 22, is struggling with a calf injury and, according to L’Equipe, did not take part in training on Sunday.
It is not clear whether Mbappe’s absence was precautionary but there is a very real possibility he will not be available for his side’s biggest game of the season.
However, The Athletic report the PSG No7 has been included as part of their travelling squad.
Ahead of tonight’s crunch game at the Etihad Stadium, we examine how Les Parisiens could manage without one of the world’s most explosive forwards as they attempt to overturn a 2-1 deficit.
Asked for an update on Mbappe ahead of the game, PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino said: “I am optimistic, I still am.
“We think he will be there. We will make a decision before the match but I am optimistic.
“He received a blow that could have happened at any time during the match [against City].
“It can happen. It’s not a serious problem but it created a muscle imbalance in the calf.”
PSG cannot really afford to lose Mbappe at this stage of the season, so it comes as little surprise Pochettino was full of optimism.
To turn things around against a City side in such imperious form will require all of the French club’s attacking might.
Without Mbappe, they become a far less formidable proposition. After all, the 2018 World Cup winner has 25 Ligue 1 goals from as many starts, far exceeding his 20.7 expected goals tally.
Understudies Moise Kean and Mauro Icardi are capable finishers but they simply do not occupy defences in the same way — and that is the key.
Though they controlled the second half of the first leg, City were still wary of Mbappe’s ability to run in behind.
That meant their defensive line could not push quite as high up, in case the hosts exploited them with a single ball over the top.
If Mbappe cannot play at the Etihad, City will be emboldened, able to squeeze PSG and assert their dominance.
No other player in their attack can compete with Kyle Walker for pace. That might mean Pochettino is forced to adapt his tactical approach.
A focus on compact defending and rapid counter attacks is unlikely to be effective without Mbappe.
Even with the France international, this feels like a big ask for PSG.
City were so dominant and confident in Paris that only an implosion seems likely to prevent Pep Guardiola’s side from reaching an elusive Champions League final.
A difficult task
Pochettino is a shrewd, intelligent coach and he will have ideas to adjust to the potential absence of Mbappe.
He will know that PSG’s best chance lies with the young forward and his connection with Neymar, who was also subdued in the first leg but has previously shone playing off Mbappe in a No10 role.
With both of them on the pitch, the French side are always in contention. With only one of them, things become far more difficult.
That is not to say beating City will be an impossibility.
Icardi, for all of his struggles this term, was once one of Europe’s most sought-after strikers and scored 20 times from just 26 starts in all competitions in his first season in France.
Kean, meanwhile, has proved surprisingly effective since his loan move from Everton.
Despite his Merseyside woes, the Italian is in the 93rd percentile for non-penalty goals in Europe’s top five leagues.
So PSG do have options.
City will also find their game plan is disrupted having clearly gone into this tie taking into account the significant threat of Mbappe’s clever runs in behind.
But there is no doubt Guardiola will breathe a little easier if the PSG forward is not on the teamsheet.