Paris — Despite enjoying a near-perfect season on the pitch,
Paris Saint-Germain is dealing with a major internal crisis on the eve of its
biggest game so far.
The runaway French league leader should be full confidence
as it prepares to welcome Chelsea at the Parc des Princes for the first leg of
their Champions League last-16 match on Tuesday. PSG is unbeaten in its last 44
domestic matches, and key players Javier Pastore and Marco Verratti have
recovered from injuries in time.
Instead, a poisonous atmosphere enveloped the club over the
weekend after defender Serge Aurier was suspended for insulting coach Laurent
Blanc and some of his teammates in an online video.
During a live session with fans on social media, Aurier
aimed abuse at Blanc and insulted Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Angel Di Maria.
Aurier has since apologized but could soon be placed on the
The video left the club's Qatari owners unimpressed, and
president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said he would not allow anyone to get away with
damaging PSG's image.
Aurier's comments are a setback in Qatar Sports Investments'
attempt to turn PSG into a world-class club. When QSI took over in June 2011,
PSG endured serious problems of hooliganism and racism, and was everything but
a model of sporting stability. It has been transformed into one of the world's
richest clubs, and the Parc des Princes has been cleaned of its most violent
supporters. But PSG has yet to pass the quarterfinals of the Champions League,
and the slick image its owners want to promote has been dented at the worst
Also read: Man racially abused by Chelsea fans to attend PSG rematch
Aurier has been a key player for Blanc, and is widely
regarded as one of the best right backs playing in Europe. But this isn't his
first run-in with authorities, as he was suspended for three matches last year
for insulting a Champions League referee on social media.
Against Chelsea, he is likely to be replaced either by
Marquinhos or Gergory Van der Wiel. Ibrahimovic and Di Maria are expected to
start up front, with Lucas Moura and Edinson Cavani in competition for a
starting position on the left flank of the attack.
Here are other things to know about the match:
MAKESHIFT DEFENSE: The central-defensive pairing of Kurt
Zouma and John Terry also has been integral to Chelsea's improvement under
coach Guus Hiddink, but neither will be playing.
Zouma was ruled out for the season last week with a knee
ligament injury, and Terry hurt his hamstring at the weekend, leaving Chelsea
to likely throw together Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic at center back to
handle the threat of Ibrahimovic.
Cesar Azpilicueta will be moved to right back to accommodate
Baba Rahman on the left.
COSTA REVIVAL: Striker Diego Costa is back to his best, and
that spells danger for PSG. He appeared to be more interested in fighting than
scoring at the start of the season, but since Jose Mourinho departed, Costa has
been more focused on his primary job, and scored eight goals in 10 games.
VERRATTI EXTENDS DEAL: Midfielder Marco Verratti has
extended his contract with PSG until 2020. He has played a crucial role in
PSG's rise to the summit of French football since his arrival in July 2012.
Blanc has often expressed his admiration for Verratti, who
has 155 appearances.
PSG said the "contract extension demonstrates the
importance of the 23-year-old midfielder."For
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