Four months after French football came to a halt as the coronavirus pandemic worsened, Paris Saint-Germain entered Friday’s national cup final against Saint-Etienne in search of the first of a potential three titles in a five-game burst.
For the seventh time in eight years after the season ended prematurely declared Ligue 1 champion, PSG returned to competitive action 135 days later with the French Cup, French League Cup and Champions League in their sights.
Unlike their last game on March 11, a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund behind closed doors that secured a place in the Champions League quarter-finals, a limited number of fans are allowed to attend the French Cup final.
The game at the Stade de France marks the return of French football and lags far behind the rest of the top European leagues that eventually restarted despite the health crisis.
PSG has shown little rust when sending three friendly opponents – Le Havre, Waasland-Beveren and Scottish champions Celtic – with 20 goals and no goals against.
For Saint-Etienne, the interruption of COVID-19 made them turn the page of a nasty competition campaign in which they finished 17th – far from fourth in 2018-19.
“The goal was to prevent injuries and to reach the final with fresh legs and a good head. We are ready to play,” said PSG coach Thomas Tuchel.
“It’s a very important game after a long break. No team has ever done that. We want to win.”
‘Historical and strange’
PSG captain Thiago Silva hopes to sign with the club for a period of eight years with a series of trophies, after a short-term extension through August.
“The truth is I didn’t want to leave, but the decision has been made and I respect it,” said Silva, who has helped PSG win four of their 12 French Cup wins.
“It’s a different time than any other, it’s historical and strange,” he added. “To quit about four months, it is not easy to get back to the highest level.”
Friday’s showdown is a replay of the 1982 final, which PSG won on penalties after a 2-2 draw in which Michel Platini scored twice for Saint-Etienne.
It was PSG’s first major title and also the last time Saint-Etienne reached the final.
“We are not favorites. Our goal is to have fun, play our trump card and be in the game. I hope we let go, we have nothing to lose,” said Claude Puel, boss of Saint-Etienne.
French President Emmanuel Macron will attend as is tradition, but fewer than 5,000 spectators will be admitted to the 80,000 seats as part of strict health regulations.
Saint-Etienne supporters have said they will boycott the match after being allocated just 900 tickets.
However, the opportunity offers Tuchel the chance to atone for the last defeat of Rennes last year in a penalty shootout, as PSG has won no more than one of the two domestic cups for the first time since 2013.
PSG will return to the Stade de France on July 31 to meet Lyon in the French League Cup final.
Then they go to Lisbon to play against Atalanta on August 12 in the quarterfinals of a Champions League ‘Final Eight’.
The tournament will be played in a direct knockout format due to the problems caused by the corona virus, with PSG dreaming of a remarkable fourfold to celebrate the club’s 50th anniversary.