Sports

After 3 easy wins, Emery's PSG faces tougher test at Rennes

FILE- In this Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 file photo, PSG's coach Unai Emery gestures during the French Cup soccer match Paris Saint-Germain against Bastia at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. The statistics look good for Paris Saint-Germain, but those wins were against poor sides and PSG faces a stiffer test this weekend when it travels to play Rennes as the French league resumes. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

FILE- In this Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 file photo, PSG's coach Unai Emery gestures during the French Cup soccer match Paris Saint-Germain against Bastia at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. The statistics look good for Paris Saint-Germain, but those wins were against poor sides and PSG faces a stiffer test this weekend when it travels to play Rennes as the French league resumes. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

PARIS — Things seem to be looking up for Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery: three straight wins, 14 goals scored, none conceded.

Although these statistics paint a rosy picture for Emery's side, those were glossy wins against poor sides and PSG faces a stiffer test on Saturday away to Rennes as the French league resumes.

The defending champion went into the winter break amid talk of a crisis, and with Emery under heavy pressure after a 2-1 loss away to Guingamp on Dec. 17. It was PSG's fourth league defeat — twice as many as all of last season, when the Parisians won the league by a whopping 31 points.

Since losing to Guingamp, however, PSG swept aside Lorient 5-0 at home in the last game before the break, thrashed Bastia 7-0 in the French Cup last weekend and reached the League Cup semifinals with a 2-0 win against Metz on Wednesday night.

But considering those were home wins against teams showing no attacking intent and defending poorly, it is hard to say whether PSG is really back on track. Given that its four league defeats were all away from home, getting a result at Rennes promises to be far harder.

The Brittany-based side is seventh in the league but has lost only once at home. Third-place PSG is five points behind league leader Nice and can hardly afford to drop more points, given that it travels to play bitter rival Marseille and Nice in the second part of the season.

Emery has sometimes struggled to impose his methods since joining in the off-season from Sevilla, having guided the Spanish club to three straight Europa League titles. Although top scorer Edinson Cavani is in good form with 24 goals, other key players like winger Angel Di Maria and midfielder Blaise Matuidi are not playing as well as last season.

Still, Emery has been praised for bringing two young, homegrown players into a star-studded side: with the 18-year-old Jonathan Ikone and 19-year-old Christopher Nkunku both doing well in midfield against Metz.

It remains to be seen, however, if he risks picking even one of them in the league against Rennes, given their inexperience.

Germany winger Julian Draxler, who scored against Bastia following his move from Wolfsburg, is expected to play against Rennes.

Nice, meanwhile, has an easier looking game at home to Metz on Sunday, but is without striker Mario Balotelli because of suspension.

PSG's other close rivals have away games on Sunday.

Second-place Monaco is at resurgent Marseille — which is in sixth place — while fourth-place Lyon is at Caen.

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IMPROVING LYON

Lyon has picked up considerably since November and it is only five points behind PSG, with a game in hand, and its only defeat in the past 13 games was against PSG.

Forward Nabil Fekir's impressive return to form also gives Lyon a massive boost.

Fekir has struggled to get back to his best ever since sustaining a serious knee injury when playing for France in a friendly against Portugal in September 2014.

France coach Didier Deschamps overlooked him for last year's European Championship and he made an inconsistent start to this season.

The 23-year-old Fekir was rated as the biggest talent in the French league before his injury, but doubts have persisted as to whether he had lost his sharpness since then.

Fekir was back to his dazzling best last weekend, scoring one expertly-taken goal and setting up three more in a 5-0 French Cup win against first division rival Montpellier. His movement, touch and awareness were the best they have been since his injury.

Fekir also rekindled his understanding with top scorer Alexandre Lacazette, which will have Lyon fans anticipating a strong second half of the campaign.

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