By Dominic Fifield in Paris/The Guardian
The Italy midfielder Marco Verratti has rejected suggestions Paris Saint-Germain are in a transitional period as the French club, rattled by a sloppy start to the new campaign, prepare to host Arsenal today in the Champions League.
The summer appeared to mark a change in policy at PSG as the club’s Qatari owners, rather than bankrolling a new wave of lavish signings, sanctioned the sale of David Luiz back to Chelsea and opted against offering Zlatan Ibrahimovic a new contract.
The new head coach, Unai Emery, who replaced Laurent Blanc in June, has come in for stinging criticism already from sections of the French media after his side, hamstrung by injuries, lost to Monaco and were held by Saint-Etienne at Parc des Princes last Friday.
Those setbacks, together with the loss of two talismanic players, had fuelled the belief PSG might be in a holding pattern as Emery finds his feet and younger personnel and a number of players who had previously been in the shadows of Ibrahimovic and David Luiz – Lucas Moura, Edinson Cavani and Marquinhos among them – aim to settle. Asked whether this is a season of transition, Verratti snapped back: “No, I don’t play for a side who have transitional seasons. I play for a club who want to do better than last season.
“It can’t be a season of transition. I think we’re going to try and improve as a team to achieve great results. We have lofty goals, and we thrive on that. We have to. Anyone who comes to Paris Saint-Germain knows there will be a lot of pressure, and that comes with having big targets. I am happy with that.”
Emery, who claimed three successive Europa Leagues with Sevilla before moving to France, found himself forced to defend his players at his pre-match media briefing.
Yet, apparently for the first time since his inaugural press conference as manager, he lapsed back into his native Spanish three times as he tone of the occasion became increasingly tense in the wake of recent slack results.
“The team look good to me,” he said. “That said, we didn’t win the last two games. But the team are well aware of how we go forward, and what we need to do to progress and win. I’ve assessed the whole squad, all the squad, and they’ve all looked me in the eye. It’s exactly the same as it was on the first day. It’s about working hard, being tenacious, being confident and optimistic. But hard work is the most important thing.
“The most important thing for me is the team. The players. To be with them, to see how they’re getting on. I’m pleased with what I’m seeing. They’re looking good. It’s trickier when you lose games, of course, but they’re looking good. How do you allay the doubts? With hard work and by improving. I have belief in the team. I think they will improve in every position, including in goal. I have confidence in them.”
PSG have fitness doubts over a number of players, including Thiago Silva, Layvin Kurzawa, Javier Pastore and Serge Aurier, and Emery will assess his walking wounded at training on Monday afternoon. Thiago Silva has not featured this season. “It’s important how he feels after training,” Emery said. “He has worked hard to be available for the team, to come back very quickly. He’s an important player for an important game, so there is a chance for him to be involved. Big matches are made for big players.”
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