Normal service is set to resume in France on Wednesday with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar both set to feature for leaders Paris Saint-German as they restart their Ligue 1 season, 45 days after it was popped on ice for the World Cup, with a home game against struggling Strasbourg.
Lionel Messi, however, will not be on show in round 16 as he is still at home, celebrating Argentina’s success in the World Cup final in Qatar.
The club, though, has been buoyed by reports last week that the 35-year-old Messi is set to sign a one-year extension to his contract which expires in the summer.
Mbappe, who scored a hat-trick in the World Cup final but still ended up on the losing side as France flunked the penalty shoot-out, reported back to training on Wednesday with Achraf Hakimi, one of the stand-outs in Morocco’s run to the semi-finals.
Mbappe, Messi and Hakimi were just three of the 14 Ligue 1 players — from eight different clubs — who reached the semi-finals in Qatar.
Neymar, whose Brazil crashed out to Croatia in the quarter-finals, was back on Thursday with compatriot Marquinhos, with both expected to play a role in Wednesday’s game at the Parc des Princes.
PSG are currently five points clear of second-placed Lens who they meet in Flanders on Sunday.
Lens, meanwhile, will look to keep up the pressure on PSG going into that game when they head down to Nice on Thursday.
Third-placed Rennes have Croatia’s Lovro Majer and on-loan Wales defender Joe Rodon back from action in Qatar as they head to Reims on Thursday.
“For me, it’s a second season that’s starting up again, with the same uncertainties, the same unknowns before a first league match of the season,” said Rennes manager Bruno Genesio. “We’ll see which teams have best managed this.”
Marseille, who are just one point behind in fourth, host a Toulouse side that is bumping around in mid-table.
– ‘Great boy’ Tagliafico –
Messi is not the only World Cup winner in Ligue 1 — Nicolas Tagliafico has also been enjoying his moment in the sun and will be absent for Lyon’s trip to Brest on Wednesday.
“Tagliafico has become world champion and I take the opportunity to congratulate him,” said Lyon coach Laurent Blanc who took charge in October when Peter Bosz was sacked after a five-match winless run.
“He is due to return on January 1 and he is getting married on the 28th. He has a lot to celebrate at the moment.
“I hope he will come back in good shape. To be a world champion is not nothing. May he come back quickly.”
Lyon are currently eighth in the table, 10 points away from the Champions League places, prompting Blanc to insist that they will need to be busy in the January transfer window if they are to compete.
“We have to improve the team,” he said on Monday. “I am not demanding anything at all. I am telling my owners, my directors, that if we want to achieve our set objectives, we have to improve the squad. That’s all.”
There will also be focus on the relegation zone as bottom side Angers, three points behind Strasbourg, travel to Ajaccio who are only four points and two places above them.
Wednesday (1400 GMT unless stated)
Ajaccio v Angers, Troyes v Nantes, Auxerre v Monaco (1600), Clermont v Lille (1800), Brest v Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain v Strasbourg (both 2000)
Thursday (2000 GMT unless stated)
Lorient v Montpellier (1600), Reims v Rennes (1800), Marseille v Toulouse, Nice v Lens