PSG's weekend match with Toulouse a final dress rehearsal for Real Madrid
PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain's final action before their Champions League round-of-16 first-leg clash with Real Madrid is in Toulouse on Saturday and coach Unai Emery has a few important decisions to make based on what he sees at Stadium Municipal.
Things might have been easier for the Ligue 1 leaders as Toulouse were struggling for form under previous coach Pascal Dupraz but have picked up since he was replaced by Mickael Debeve. Since the change in boss, Toulouse have won their last two matches in the league and Emery knows that they pose more of a challenge now than they would have done had things stayed the same.
"Toulouse are a very competitive side," Emery said at a prematch press conference on Friday. "They have won their last two matches, without conceding a single goal, and that has happened since they changed coach.
"It will be very hard to find space there. They will be extra motivated to play us at home, in front of their supporters.
"We must stay focused and make sure that we keep our lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table."
Key to that will be what Emery decides to do in midfield with Thiago Motta rested but Adrien Rabiot back from injury and Giovani Lo Celso available once more after suspension.
Lassana Diarra looked good in Sochaux, while Marco Verratti, Javier Pastore and Julian Draxler can all play centrally. Asked if he plans to mix things up in Toulouse and then again in Madrid, Emery expressed his desire to remain consistent as far as defensive midfield goes.
"I do not want to change too much for Wednesday," Emery said. "Lassana signed for us because Thiago was injured.
"However, we also worked with Adrien and Giovani in that position and they are both options for that role next week."
Midfield is not the only area that Emery will have to think carefully about, though, with Edinson Cavani missing in attack and Layvin Kurzawa out at left-back.
Cavani's absence and the need to keep the in-form Angel Di Maria fresh could mean that Kylian Mbappe starts through the middle with Neymar to his left and then one of Pastore or Draxler on the right.
Such a combination would also open things up as far as the two more advanced central midfield roles are concerned.
In defence, captain Thiago Silva will probably be afforded a breather after Marquinhos was rested in midweek, so Presnel Kimpembe is likely to continue in the middle. With Kevin Trapp banned, Alphonse Areola is the only choice in goal.
Thomas Meunier will probably start at right-back, although Dani Alves' recent lack of match practice because of suspension could mean that he needs action in order to be ready for Madrid -- but either one of the two could also push forward and play in attack.
Kurzawa's absence means that Yuri Berchiche will get another start and considering his recent consistency and the France international's largely disappointing form this season, a good performance from the Spaniard could seal his place in the starting XI away at Real.
"I am only thinking about Toulouse," the 46-year-old said. "It is important to send a strong message before going to Madrid.
"Toulouse is the priority. Who will start for PSG next Wednesday? I do not know yet."
How similar Emery's starting XI in Toulouse is to the one he puts out in Madrid will depend on how severe the injuries to Cavani and Kurzawa are and whether or not the former Sevilla coach wants to spring any tactical surprises.
Despite their recent resurgence under Debeve, though, PSG should be able to see off Toulouse with relative ease.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.