Unai Emery must strike right balance with lineup in Coupe de la Ligue semis
PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain can book their place in their first cup final of the season with a win away at Rennes in the Coupe de la Ligue semis on Tuesday.
It will be the French capital outfit's third trip to Roazhon Park this campaign and all three have been in the past two months, with a 4-1 win away in Ligue 1 and a 6-1 thrashing away in the Coupe de France.
Unai Emery's men ended the Bretons' hopes in one domestic trophy this term but can they now do the same in the other one?
The Spaniard knows that Sabri Lamouchi's men will be motivated to avoid further humiliation in front of their supporters this midweek.
"It is a special match," Emery told journalists at his prematch news conference on Monday. "We have already put in two very good performances there this season and won both games comfortably. However, this will be different because it is a semifinal.
"It is a great opportunity for us but it is also a great chance for them. Rennes will be ready and will be looking to give themselves every opportunity of qualifying. The aim is the same for both teams -- reach the final.
"We will have to show plenty of motivation and play to our best, while always respecting them."
With the first leg of their encounter with Real Madrid in the Champions League at Santiago Bernabeu a fortnight away, PSG will need to strike the perfect balance in resting players and remaining strong enough to avoid an upset.
Minor injuries to captain Thiago Silva and Julian Draxler mean that both players have not travelled with their teammates, while Dani Alves is suspended -- all three will get some rest on Tuesday.
Kylian Mbappe is back from injury after colliding with Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes and Lassana Diarra is included in Emery's squad for the first time.
How Emery handles Diarra's situation will be very interesting because the French midfielder could potentially play a key role in Madrid -- despite only signing for the Ligue 1 leaders last week.
Undisputed starting defensive midfielder Thiago Motta is struggling to recovery from his latest injury setback, which was suffered in Rennes, so it has been in Emery's best interests to get Diarra involved as soon as possible.
Diarra -- a former Real, Arsenal, Chelsea and Marseille man -- has obviously impressed his new boss with how ready for action he is and his inclusion for the Rennes trip now gives him a realistic shot at being somewhere close to fully fit in time for a potential return to one of his former stomping grounds -- the Bernabeu.
Diarra is unlikely to start in Rennes but a substantial substitute appearance would set him up well ahead of a possible start away at Lille in Ligue 1 this coming weekend and then Real would not look such a daunting prospect in terms of him playing the most part of 90 minutes.
There is still a possibility that Motta is operational in time for Madrid but he has not played regularly for some time now and will arguably take longer to bring up to speed than Diarra and there are only limited minutes available before the trip to Spain.
Kevin Trapp should walk back into goal as it is a domestic cup, while Thomas Meunier will continue at right-back.
Marquinhos will likely captain the side with Silva out, and be partnered by Presnel Kimpembe in central defence, with Yuri Berchiche or Layvin Kurzawa expected at left-back.
Depending on how Emery views Diarra, either Adrien Rabiot or Giovani Lo Celso could be rested -- or both -- with Marco Verratti in need of a run-out after his recent knock.
Mbappe, Neymar and record goal scorer Edinson Cavani are all available in attack but Angel Di Maria is the in-form man.
The Argentina international has featured heavily since the start of 2018, so could do with a bit of a breather but in a semifinal, his momentum could prove useful -- especially if Emery rotates heavily.
There is no question that PSG are strong enough to beat Rennes comfortably once more but they should be prepared to face stiffer resistance with a cup final at stake and pride an issue after two humiliations in front of their own fans already.
Emery is right to be thinking a little about Real in terms of keeping his players fresh but not so much that it jeopardises a potential trophy now that they are so close to the final and a date at Stade de France.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.