Paris Saint-Germain vs Olympique de Marseille
It is arguably the biggest ‘classique’ in years. Paris Saint-Germanin vs Marseille. The marquee fixture of the domestic French calendar. The champions against the pretenders. First against second. Marcelo Bielsa vs Laurent Blanc. Andre-Pierre Gignac versus Edinson Cavani. The ingredients are all there for what should be a pulsating 90 minutes on a cold Parisian night this Sunday. Victory for either club could have huge ramifications on the title race.
We are on the back of four successive victories with Edinson Cavani hitting a real purple patch after the scrutiny he has been under over the last six weeks or so. The Uruguayan is back in his national team squad and will be buoyed after his winner in the week against APOEL. He could have helped himself to a hat-trick on the night but it is hard to criticise a player who has been pivotal in our recent success and scored both winners in the last two European outings.
What an incentive for both teams. Victory for us will close the gap on OM to just the one point. That will be an incredible turnaround considering we were eight points behind heading into the Monaco game at the beginning of October. That will be some doing and a lot of ground made up in a stop-start beginning to the season. We are still unbeaten, our home form is impeccable. Not tasting a defeat at the Parc des Princes since last May when Rennes gate-crashed our title celebrations. Marseille have not beaten us in Paris for four years, since that abysmal defeat we took where Didier Deschamps’ men soundly beat us 3-0. The last four meetings in all competitions at the Parc have resulted in a 2-0 victory for the hosts (three of them coming in each domestic competition during the 2012/13 season). And we are unbeaten in the last seven against the southerners.
This is a different Marseille this time around. Without doubt they have been the best team in France so far this season and deserve their place in the table. Bielsa’s appointment has been a shrewd one. He has got them playing a brand of football similar to that of his Athletic Bilbao side that got to the Europa League and Copa del Rey Finals in 2012. They have been pleasing on the eye and the fans flocking to the newly revamped Velodrome are overjoyed these days by what they’re paying to see.
They racked up eight consecutive victories in the league earlier in the campaign, only ended by a 1-0 loss at the Stade de Gerland against Olympique Lyonnais via an emphatic finish by Yoann Gourcuff. Bielsa’s men scored 22 goals in that incredible run including four games on the trot where they racked up more than three goals (five coming in Reims).
The Argentine coach must be applauded for the start he has made to his tenure. His man management skills have been key to Les Phoceens success in getting the best out of players who were going stale last season. Gignac is a man reborn. The striker who was often ridiculed for his weight sits at the top of the goal-scoring charts with 10 goals alongside Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette. Bielsa had to defend his striker however after their Coupe de la Ligue exit to Rennes when he and teammate Brice Dja Djedje had a bust-up. There were reports of Gignac actually striking the Ivorian in training the day after the game with the defender believing his mate was sticking up for Paul Ntep after he, along with Djedje, were sent off after a fracas. Bielsa was clever with his reaction by saying; “I never punish players. I believe in compassion more than a punishment. I haven’t spoken to them. The union of the squad is intact, it hasn’t been affected”.
Well there was no ill feeling last weekend as they got back to winning ways as they beat Lens 2-1 – even though they were reduced to 10-men again. Steve Mandanda in goal made a crucial save to deny Yoann Touzghar’s effort with his legs and the contenders held on for three vital points.
They are under no illusions that they are in for a game. Our form has improved with four consecutive victories. Lucas Moura, along with Javier Pastore, are our key attacking outlets. Little Lucas was in dazzling form in the week and the Benjamin Mendy is going to have his work cut out to try and stifle him.
It will be interesting to see how OM do approach the game though. They will take heart from Monaco’s performance as they came to attack. They played with intent and were deserving of their injury time equaliser. Bielsa is not a man to adopt a defensive approach which makes it all the more intriguing. He said in his pre-match presser yesterday that his side will “take risks”.
We had some terrific news this week that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back in training. The club released pictures on their Instagram account and the news is encouraging. There is a possibility he may actually make the squad afterall, even after Thiago Silva admitted at the beginning of the week that he was doubtful the big Swede would make it.
Both sides are tied on 32 apiece in the overall head to head. Whoever claims the 33rd tomorrow – if either – then they will have made a real statement of intent.
The classique is globally recognised now and the eyes of the world will be watching. Paris will be the hub of European football tomorrow night. How can you not get excited? Bring it on!