Paris (AFP) - Injuries to several key players mean that Paris Saint-Germain's trip to struggling Evian in Ligue 1 on Friday may prove a stiffer test than the reigning champions bargained for.
With captain Thiago Silva already out for several weeks with a hamstring injury, PSG saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic go off with a slight muscle tear in his side early in last week's 2-0 home win against SC Bastia.
A first Ligue 1 win of the campaign for Laurent Blanc's side was also overshadowed by a fractured vertebra suffered by Gregory Van der Wiel, while midfielder Thiago Motta's nose was fractured following an ugly clash with Bastia's Brazilian striker Brandao in the tunnel after the game.
There is plenty of depth to the capital club's squad, with Serge Aurier, Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi and Ezequiel Lavezzi all starting on the bench last weekend, but the loss of Silva and Ibrahimovic in particular is an undoubted blow ahead of the game in Annecy.
When Paris faced Evian away last season, nobody expected their run of 26 Ligue 1 matches without defeat to come to an end, yet they were beaten 2-0.
In April 2013, Evian also knocked their illustrious opponents out of the French Cup quarter-finals on penalties, but it would still be a major surprise if they slipped up this time.
"We are a step ahead compared to this time last year," says Blanc, whose team started last season slowly before running away with the title.
"Our physical preparation has not changed. It is just that we have been together a year longer. In terms of our play, there is no comparison."
"Last year we lost 2-0 there but the conditions were complicated because the pitch was frozen," pointed out left-back Lucas Digne. "In any case we are expecting another difficult match."
That is despite the fact that Evian lie rooted to the foot of the table already. Many observers' pre-season favourites to go down, Evian have conceded nine goals in losing their opening two matches, including a 6-2 hammering at Rennes last weekend.
"There were good signs in pre-season, but unfortunately after 180 minutes in Ligue 1 we have let in nine goals," said Evian coach Pascal Dupraz, before adding: "It is never good to play PSG, but we didn't steal our victory when we beat them last season."
- Under pressure -
Under normal circumstances, the pressure would be on Dupraz, but he is so powerful within the club, also holding the role of general manager, that the chances of him being ousted from the dugout seem slim.
In contrast, the pressure is on two of Ligue 1's newest faces already, with Marseille coach Marcelo Bielsa in need of a first win when his side face Guingamp in Brittany.
More seasoned observers of French football believe that Argentine Bielsa and Monaco's new Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim, with their out of the ordinary tactical choices and training regimes, may have underestimated Ligue 1.
Monaco have lost their first two games under Jardim, including a 4-1 thumping at Bordeaux, and need to halt the slide when they go to Nantes.
The principality club's Russian vice-president Vadim Vasilyev said: "We are not satisfied. We have started badly. But I am not worried, because we have changed a lot of things in terms of methodology and the team. We need time for everything to gel."
In contrast, Bordeaux have enjoyed a perfect start under new boss Willy Sagnol. They travel south to face Nice, while Saint-Etienne, having also had a perfect start, host Rennes on Sunday after a hazardous trip to Turkey to play Karabukspor in the Europa League on Thursday.
Lyon are also in Europa League action on Thursday, against Romania's Astra Giurgiu, before hosting Lens, while Lille play Lorient in between the two legs of their Champions League play-off with Porto.
Fixtures (kick-offs 1800GMT unless stated)
Evian v Paris Saint-Germain (1845)
Guingamp v Marseille (1500), SC Bastia v Toulouse, Lille v Lorient, Montpellier v Metz, Nice v Bordeaux, Reims v Caen
Lyon v Lens (1200), Saint-Etienne v Rennes (1500), Nantes v Monaco (1900)