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PSG coach Enrique reluctant to talk about Mbappé ahead of Champions League clash with Sociedad

PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain coach Luis Enrique seemed reluctant to talk about star striker Kylian Mbappé ahead of the Champions League clash with Real Sociedad.

Mbappé has been nusring a sore left ankle and was an unused substitute in Saturday’s league game against Lille. Asked on Tuesday if Mbappé was ready to start against Sociedad in the first leg of their last-16 contest, Enrique replied with a terse “Yes” at the pre-match news conference.

“He could have played four days ago if it was a final," Enrique said through a translator. "But since it wasn’t (a final) it wasn’t worth taking the risk.”

Mbappé's PSG contract runs out at the end of June and the France star has yet to say if he will stay, with reports heavily linking him with a move to long-time suitor Real Madrid.

So it was put to Enrique that Wednesday's match at Parc des Princes could — potentially — be Mbappé's last home game for the club in the Champions League, given that Sociedad might eliminate PSG.

“Potential (last game)? No," Enrique replied flatly. "That is not how I feel about it."

PSG is 11 points clear in the French league while Sociedad is only seventh in the Spanish league. But competition in Spain is generally stronger and Ligue 1 has not produced a credible rival this season, like it did when Montpellier (2012), Mbappé's Monaco (2017) and Lille (2021) won the title, and when Lens fell short by one point last season.

Once again, all eyes are on the Champions League as a true indicator of PSG's level.

“I'm not going to answer that question,” Enrique replied when asked if PSG was favored to go through against Sociedad. ”It matters little what I say, the favorite needs to show it on the field."

Enrique may deliberately be trying to take some pressure off his players and understandably so, given PSG's underwhelming record in the competition.

The cash-rich Qatari club has spent fortunes on buying stars and paying huge salaries — Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Mbappé, Neymar, Lionel Messi — yet PSG has been eliminated from the last 16 of the Champions League five times in the past seven seasons.

Arguably the most humiliating performance in PSG's history saw it hammered 6-1 by Barcelona in 2017 — with Enrique in charge of Barca back then — having won the first leg 4-0.

Ever since that defeat, the Champions League has defined PSG's season. Frustrated fans have heaped even more pressure on a team with a reputation for falling short in the big games, quickly turning on stars like Neymar and Messi.

Enrique is trying to change his players' mental approach.

“It’s not a case of protecting the players, it’s a case of staying as natural as possible," he said. “The best way to approach these games is to be relaxed.”

The message seems to have got through and, rather than talking up PSG's chances the way some previous players boastfully did, the current squad appears more modest.

“We don’t feel obliged to win it (the Champions League), but we want to win it. We don’t feel any particular pressure or obligation," PSG's Spanish midfielder Fabian Ruiz said through a translator. “We can’t control what goes on outside but we can from the inside — and I assure you that we feel calm."

Ruiz, who previously played in Serie A for Napoli, sees Sociedad as a tactically astute and strong “counter pressing” side while Enrique praised the work of his counterpart Imanol Alguacil, who took charge of the club in 2018.

While PSG lost twice in the group stage and scraped into the last 16 in the last round, Sociedad finished unbeaten atop its group ahead of Inter Milan, last season’s Champions League runner-up and the runaway league leader in Italy.

“They have been playing good football for the past six years. They are reaping the rewards of this work," Enrique said. “They are one of the teams which concedes the least goals in the Champions League, and they will give us no gifts.”

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