PSG begins title defence without stars in loss at Lens

PSG's Marco Verratti lies on the ground after the Champions League final soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. (Manu Fernandez/Pool via AP)

PARIS — Defending champion Paris Saint-Germain opened its league campaign without its stars and lost 1-0 at promoted Lens on Thursday.

Striker Ignatius Ganago finished powerfully in the 57th minute after third-choice PSG goalkeeper Marcin Bulka passed the ball to him instead of teammate Marco Verratti, who perhaps should not have demanded it on the edge of the penalty area.

PSG was missing Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and five others who also tested positive for the coronavirus recently, including winger Angel Di Maria.

Six were positive following a club-approved trip to Ibiza soon after the 1-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on Aug. 23. Mbappe was not with them and his positive COVID-19 test happened on international duty with France last week.

In their absence, coach Thomas Tuchel handed debuts to 18-year-olds Kays Ruiz-Atil and Arnaud Kalimuendo in attack, while the 20-year-old Bulka made just his second appearance.

He wasn’t helped when Verratti sprinted to demand the ball and the flustered goalie instead directed it straight to Ganago, who brushed off Verratti’s attempt at a tackle and smacked the ball into the top corner.

“Yes it was a bit dangerous but that’s my way of playing. I always look for the ball because I play football. I asked for the ball,” Verratti told broadcaster Canal Plus. ”There are a lot of factors but we gave everything.”

Earlier, Ganago hit the post after a fine run and shot in the 17th. Ganago went close again before the break, while Ruiz-Atil looked lively.

Lens should have made it 2-0 midway through the second half, but forward Simon Banza fluffed a close-range header.

PSG had long spells on the ball but hardly threatened.

“We struggled to create chances. we were missing players,” Tuchel said.

His side now has a hectic schedule ahead with a home game against Marseille on Sunday followed by Metz at Parc des Princes on Wednesday.

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