LIBREVILLE (AFP) – French champions Paris Saint-Germain play their first competitive game under new coach Laurent Blanc on Saturday when they take on national Cup holders Bordeaux in the Champions Trophy.
For the fifth consecutive year, the traditional curtain-raiser to the French domestic season is being staged outside the country, with the Stade de l'Amitie in the Gabonese capital of Libreville chosen as the venue for the meeting of champions and Cup winners.
But while the venue may be unusual, the opposition will be familiar for Blanc, as he leads PSG against the club he coached for three years until 2010 in a spell that saw him win the Ligue 1 title, the League Cup and two Champions Trophies.
His impressive track record with Les Girondins saw him handed the chance to coach France, but he lasted barely two years in charge of the national team, stepping down after their exit from Euro 2012 at the quarter-final stage.
The trophy on offer on Saturday in France's equivalent of the Community Shield or Super Cup may be the least important of all those for which PSG will compete this season, but former World Cup-winning defender Blanc will be desperate to get his reign off to the best possible start, especially given the scepticism that greeted his arrival as a replacement for Real Madrid-bound Carlo Ancelotti in June.
On the field, it has been a relatively quiet pre-season for PSG, with their programme of friendlies including a 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid in Sweden last weekend.
Off it, however, there have been more huge-money signings, with a reported 115 million euros ($152 million) spent on recruiting young left-back Lucas Digne from Lille, Brazilian central defender Marquinhos from Roma and Uruguay star Edinson Cavani.
The latter cost a French record 64 million euros from Napoli, with whom he was the top scorer in Serie A last season, but neither he nor Marquinhos are considered ready to feature this weekend.
With Jeremy Menez also missing due to injury, Blanc could choose Ezequiel Lavezzi as a partner for Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack, while Thiago Silva seems likely to start despite beginning his pre-season late after helping Brazil win the Confederations Cup in June.
"It is a bit special," Blanc said of the meeting with his former employers. "I only have good memories of Bordeaux, the staff, the board, the whole club.
"Starting off in Libreville is something new, but there is a match and a trophy to be won."
While PSG have further strengthened their squad this summer, Bordeaux have lost influential left-back Benoit Tremoulinas to Dynamo Kiev and have travelled to Africa without nine surviving squad members for a variety of reasons.
Giant Malian striker Cheick Diabate, who scored 10 goals in the last nine games of last season, is not fit, while new signing Lucas Orban, an Argentine full-back brought in from Tigre, is ineligible.
"I won't be putting out my strongest team, but it will be a team that will feature at some point or another over the course of the season, so the fringe players might as well get their chance sooner rather than later," said Bordeaux coach Francis Gillot.