Marseille's labours and PSG's dominance turn Le Classique into L'anodine

·5-min read

There’s a character in the American cartoon show The Simpsons called Sideshow Bob. The highly-educated yet perennially frustrated fall guy comes to mind as Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille prepare for Sunday night's Ligue 1 game at the Parc des Princes.

The clash is hysterically promoted as Le Classique on the basis of the traditional hostility between the two cities.

But ramping up the animosity seems so 2010s. PSG have - under the aegis of backers QSI - developed over the past decade into the alpha entity of Ligue 1.

Such is PSG's ascendance that the fixture against Marseille is unlikely to change that much in this season's title race.

PSG go into the encounter 12 points ahead of their second-placed visitors.

Timing

That the match comes just days after the pomp and circumstance of the second legs in the last eight of the Champions League is all the more galling for the PSG supremos who want their men to be in the lucre-laden spotlight of European club football's most prestigious tournament.

Real Madrid's resilience and PSG's ability to self-immolate ended the 2021/2022 quest in the last-16.

And now all that is left is a bedraggled plod to the 2022 Ligue 1 trophy.

The facts on the eve of the game highlight PSG's predicament.

Boasting the likes of Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Marquinhos, they have harvested 71 points from their 31 games. They are rampagingly strong for their division.

But such muscle withers in the knockout stages of a competition such as the Champions League where luck is as big a factor as baseline talent.

On Sunday night on the leafy western fringes of the French capital, even if the hosts were to lose, it would be a mere bagatelle.

Distance

Courtesy of their vastly superior goal difference, PSG would still only need three victories from their last six fixtures to clinch an eighth Ligue 1 title in 10 seasons - assuming that Marseille don't falter with the prospect of a late title race.

If PSG win to establish a 15 point lead, they can more or less start offering some top flight game time to the bright and shiny prospects from their academy.

Marseille essentially need the three points to hold off the challenge of third-placed Rennes in the fight for second spot and automatic qualification for next season's Champions League.

Third place offers a route into the play-off rounds for the group stages of the Champions League. Second brings a tad more prize money and a few extra days on holiday.

PSG's journey in the Champions League over the past few years furnishes misery and mirth in equal measure.

Allure

Fans lament the inability to capitalise on handsome leads. The great unwashed revel in such implosions.

But despite the litany of catastrophes, PSG retains its allure.

On Thursday, the club announced a three-year sponsorship deal with the online shopping and lifestyle platform GOAT.

From next season, PSG's shirt sleeves will carry the GOAT logo.

"Paris Saint-Germain is one of the most influential clubs in the world and we are thrilled to partner with them to continue building our global community," said Eddy Lu, the GOAT boss.

Since 2015, GOAT has built up 30 million members and 600,000 sellers across 170 countries on its platform. A stratospheric rise that the executives behind PSG can appreciate.

In the QSI reign, PSG has clocked up the domestic knockout cups and an imminent eighth title within the last 10 years will take them joint equal on 10 championships with Saint-Etienne as the most successful French club.

"GOAT is the perfect partner for the club," said Marc Armstrong, PSG's chief partnerships officer. "Together, we will develop exciting and creative experiences to appeal to fans everywhere."

Prizes

Well, nothing appeals to fans more than glittering baubles. One continues to evade PSG - the Champions League.

Marseille remain the only French club to have captured European club football's most prestigious title.

But that was in 1993 when the competition was a smaller beast than it is today.

The first legs of the semi-finals for the 2022 trophy will take place on 26 and 27 April.

They will pit Real Madrid against Manchester City while Liverpool will take on Villareal for a place in the final at the Stade de France just outside Paris on 28 May.

And the cruel irony for PSG fans and executives: the two Spanish teams in the last four of the Champions League are led by former PSG coaches.

Over in England, six days after their high stakes showdown for the leadership of the Premier League, Manchester City and Liverpool will jostle for supremacy in the semi-final of FA Cup.

The two could meet again in the Champions League final. While their coaches can dream of that, the PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino will have to content himself with Ligue 1.

It is believed that the PSG top brass want to dispense with his services for not bringing them the crown they crave.

But even dispatching the Argentine might not douse the ire.

On Sunday, sections of the Parc des Princes will be silent as hard core fan associations continue to protest against the club's hierarchy since the defeat to Madrid.

The malcontents want PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi and sporting director Leonardo to depart.

But that's as likely as the side winning this season's Champions League.

The Collectif Ultras Paris says its members will be at the game on Sunday night but will remain silent during the proceedings.

And with Marseille fans banned from attending the match, the last drops of the high-octane have been removed from a night that could be more fittingly rebranded as l'anodine.

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