PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery praised the impact that Neymar’s 26th birthday party had on his squad as they head into a crucial period of the season.
PSG won 3-0 away at Lille last Saturday to remain 11 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 and travel to Sochaux in the Coupe de France and to Toulouse in the league this week before going to Spain to take on Real Madrid in the Champions League round-of-16 first leg next week.
Emery decided to rest Neymar for Tuesday’s game, but he said at his prematch news conference that he did not see a negative side of his players letting their hair down for a few hours over the weekend.
“Fifteen-20 years ago, there were no social media networks — birthdays remained private,” the Spaniard told journalists. “It was important for the squad to be together. It was also good to be with Neymar for an important moment like that.
“Now, the most crucial thing is the match. Being together is a good thing. I was one of the first to leave, around midnight — after the birthday cake.
It is a good thing for the collective spirit, this sort of event. They are ready now.”
Despite the distraction of Neymar’s big birthday bash, Emery believes that his players will remain responsible and will all be in good shape in Sochaux.
“They are playing three games per week, so there is not much time for fun like that,” he said. “So, it was a good thing and at the right moment.
“I am confident — the players are professional, and they are focused on their football.”
Regarding squad news for the trip to Sochaux, Emery suggested that Thiago Motta will only return if Adrien Rabiot and Julian Draxler are not fit enough to feature but also revealed that Presnel Kimpembe is a doubt.
“We will see,” the former Sevilla coach said. “Thiago trained on Sunday with the squad after a long absence through injury — it went well. His inclusion depends on the likes of Adrien and Julian.
“We will see how the others are. Adrien has a small pain and has seen the doctor but Presnel is also in doubt. We will see about their recovery.
“Saturday is not far away and the players need to be 100 percent ready physically and mentally.”
Giovani Lo Celso, who scored a sensational chipped effort in the 3-0 win away at Lille last Saturday, is suspended for the Sochaux clash, so Emery admitted that Lassana Diarra could start after coming on as a substitute and assisting the Argentina international’s goal at Stade Pierre Mauroy.
“Giovani is suspended,” he said. “Thiago trained on Sunday but Lassana has a good chance of starting — we will see later.
“Adrien is also a possibility, but we brought Lass in to help. He will not be at 100 percent, of course, but he needs minutes to get back into his best shape.”
A win for PSG in Sochaux will see the defending champions into the Coupe de France quarterfinals and there will then be a three-week break until the next round of fixtures in the competition.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.