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Coronavirus cloud hangs heavy over PSG’s Ligue 1 return

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PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain resume Ligue 1 duties on Thursday shorn of a clutch of their most prized coronavirus-quarantined stars and facing the daunting task of four games in 11 days.

The delayed season-opening trip to Lens could not have come at a worse time for coach Thomas Tuchel and his players as they shake off the hurt left by the Champions League final defeat to Bayern Munich.

Covid-19 has ripped the heart out of Tuchel’s side, with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes testing positive.

PSG confirmed three more cases with L’Equipe identifying them as Argentine striker Mauro Icardi, Brazilian defender Marquinhos and goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Apart from Mbappe all of them contracted the virus after holidaying in Ibiza following the 1-0 loss in Lisbon last month.

Mbappe tested positive on France duty at the start of the week, forcing the world’s second most expensive player to sit out Tuesday’s World Cup final rematch with Croatia.

Just to complicate matters further, striker Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting is out of contract, although the domestic press raise the possibility he might sign an extension.

Tuchel’s plight was laid bare when at training on Monday he only had 11 players at his disposal, with others away on national service.

PSG’s scheduled first game against Metz was pushed back due to their Champions League commitments. They then requested and were granted a further delay to the start of their title defence to allow them to get over their European hangover.

Tuchel will be grateful some of his absent men will be returning from international service this week, as PSG face a hectic return to domestic duties.

After Lens they host arch rivals Marseille at the Parc des Princes on Sunday, a clash most of the quarantined players are also expected to miss according to sporting director Leonardo.

But if given the virus all-clear they should be back in time for Metz at home on Sept 16 and Nice four days later.

This all leaves Tuchel with a selection headache for the trip to Lens, switching midfielders Julian Draxler or Pablo Sarabia up into attack and relying on PSG’s pool of youngsters.

And in goal, with Navas out and Sergio Rico unavailable as he signed his contract after the original Aug 29 date for the fixture, Tuchel will have to call on 20-year-olds Marcin Bulka or Garissone Innocent.

Captaining Tuchel’s mix and match team is likely to be Presnel Kimpembe following the departure of Thiago Silva to Chelsea.

PSG completed a sweep of the domestic trophies last term, winning Ligue 1 for the seventh time in eight attempts in a season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. – AFP

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