Pochettino makes PSG debut while Milan and Juventus face off


What do Paris expect from Poch?

The news broke suddenly on Christmas Eve but now the reality is already upon us. Over 17 years after leaving the club as a player, Mauricio Pochettino makes his debut as Paris Saint-Germain head coach in Wednesday’s match at Saint Étienne, one of the biggest fixtures in the French domestic calendar.

Having taken his first training session on Sunday morning, there has been very little time for the former Tottenham boss to work with his squad. They are likely to make the trip without Neymar and Presnel Kimpembe and face a Saint Étienne side firmly stuck in the table’s bottom half, but unbeaten in their last six in Ligue 1 and not without quality in their ranks.

Clearly the club’s priorities under Pochettino go beyond the league title and they start the new year in third position (incidentally the last PSG to take over mid-season, Carlo Ancelotti in 11-12, actually went on to not win the league that season), but their new man is expected to identify a clearer playing philosophy than Thomas Tuchel did. It won’t be easy in such a superstar-driven culture.

Back Saint Étienne and PSG to draw at 5.24/1

Milan keen to prove Scudetto credentials

With such a potentially season-defining match as Wednesday’s visit of Juventus on the horizon, it would have been easy for Milan‘s young team to take their collective eye off the ball for the weekend visit to Benevento. In the event they showed another interesting side to their growing character, after playing a long chunk of the match with ten men but seeing out a 2-0 win.

Just as Stefano Pioli and his players continue to surprise, so do Juventus, in a way. They beat Udinese with some comfort on Sunday night but have been hamstrung by draws so far this term (six out of 14 matches to date) and though sitting outside the top four isn’t necessarily a reason to panic, defeat at San Siro would leave them a whopping 13 points behind Milan.

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Logically it’s natural that we’re only finding out about Andrea Pirlo as a coach, with so many of his potential coaching ideas assumed given what we know of him as a player. He is also picking through an unbalanced squad. Meanwhile Milan know exactly what they are, and have shown what they’re made of in the extended absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Back Milan and Juventus to draw at 3.45

Athletic lick wounds ahead of Barcelona visit

From a distance it’s easy to talk of harshness when a coach wins a game at lunchtime and is fired before dinner is served, but that would leave out a lot of the detail regarding Gaizka Garitano‘s depature as Athletic Club coach. Grinding out Sunday’s win against Elche was a big deal, as coach and players said afterwards, but did little to dispel the sense of a team with talent stuck in a rut.

Garitano is a good man and well liked in Bilbao, but the hope is that new boss Marcelino can create a more defined playing identity with limited resources, as he did successfully at Villarreal and Valencia. Even in this up and down season Athletic have beaten Sevilla at San Mamés and made life very difficult for Real Madrid with only ten men, so one could imagine them being lifted by the prospect of Barcelona visiting.

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Barça themselves are still title contenders, according to their coach Ronald Koeman at least, despite sitting ten points from Atlético Madrid at the summit and having played a game more. They are also unbeaten in six in La Liga but have rarely been convincing in that time and still lie outside the top four, and they made heavy weather of a single-goal win at bottom side Huesca on Sunday. Barça could get worse before they get better and this is a big test of a side that is hard to truly believe in.

Back Athletic to beat Barcelona at 4.94/1