With Verratti out, PSG coach Tuchel needs Rabiot back now

FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2018, file photo, PSG midfielder Adrien Rabiot is challenged by Red Star's Nenad Krstici, left, during a group C Champions League soccer match between Paris Saint Germain and Red Star Belgrade at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. Coach Thomas Tuchel needs Rabiot back in the side because an injury to Marco Verratti left Paris Saint-Germain seriously short of options in midfield. (AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

Coach Thomas Tuchel needs Adrien Rabiot back in the side because an injury to Marco Verratti has left Paris Saint-Germain seriously short of options in midfield

PARIS — PSG coach Thomas Tuchel needs Adrien Rabiot back in his team — and soon — because an injury to Marco Verratti has left the French league leader seriously short of options in midfield.

With three weeks to go until Paris Saint-Germain faces Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 game, Verratti's injury has come at a bad time.

The injury-prone Italy international sprained his left ankle in PSG's 9-0 home win against Guingamp on Saturday, and he could be out for several weeks depending on what further tests reveal this week. Potentially he could miss the trip to a resurgent-looking United team on Feb. 12.

Verratti's injury is a major headache for Tuchel, who even before the injury made it very clear that he desperately needs another central midfielder to bolster his squad.

But PSG's spending power has been slowed by Financial Fair Play concerns and, with 10 days until the end of the transfer window, the club has still not signed a midfielder.

The January window is more costly than the summer window, with mid-season prices often elevated because clubs have pressing needs and this in turn sometimes lead to panic buys.

PSG's budget this window is reportedly around 30 million euros ($34 million) in total, which falls considerably below the amount required for a standout holding midfielder. At the highest end of the scale, Chelsea's N'Golo Kante — arguably the best in his position in world football — is rated at 100 million euros ($114 million) by website Transfermarkt.

PSG has been linked with midfielders of much less renown than Kante, a key player in France's World Cup victory last summer.

Borussia Dortmund's Julian Weigl, who previously played under Tuchel when he was Dortmund's coach, Ajax's highly-rated 21-year-old Frenkie de Jong and Premier League Everton's Idrissa Gueye have all been mentioned as possible signings.

The 23-year-old Rabiot is arguably technically better than those three and more experienced at the highest level. Yet last week Rabiot was training with PSG's reserves. The last of the floppy-haired Frenchman's 226 PSG appearances was on Dec. 5 in a 1-1 draw at Strasbourg.

The major sticking point is that Rabiot, whose contract ends in June, remains at odds with the club because of a contract dispute that has dragged on. It led to PSG's sporting director Antero Henrique saying in a December interview that Rabiot would remain out of the side for the foreseeable future after refusing to sign a new deal.

Rabiot's agent is his mother Veronique, who defended her son. She said "there is no way back" for him at PSG.

As the bitter feud between Rabiot and PSG escalated, Veronique Rabiot said the French champion turned down an offer from Barcelona last summer. Henrique replied to that by saying Barca's offer for Rabiot — made on Aug. 29 and just before the close of the summer window — was so low it was dismissed as "ridiculous."

PSG has not sold Rabiot, but he does not play. The impasse puts Tuchel in a difficult position in his first season in charge of PSG.

Tuchel has publicly said two things in recent weeks: he admires Rabiot as a player, but also understands the club's disciplinary stance.

Yet with Verratti possibly missing for the United game and no January signing on the immediate horizon, it appears paramount that Rabiot is reinstated — and fast.

Otherwise, Tuchel will have to waste his best central defender Marquinhos as a makeshift holding midfielder, or also play winger Julian Draxler out of position in that role.

The other option is recalling veteran Lassana Diarra, which is not realistic. The 33-year-old former Real Madrid and France midfielder has only played four matches this season, the last of those on Oct. 20.

If PSG does not sign a midfielder and Verratti is out for a significant period of time, Tuchel clearly needs Rabiot fit and ready to face United at Old Trafford.

But for that to happen Rabiot needs games now — if the club's hierarchy loosens its stance and accepts his return.

Otherwise, it could lead the club to an unwanted clash with Tuchel.

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