PSG looking for ‘Classique’ revenge against crisis-wracked Marseille

·4-min read

France’s Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) are looking for revenge against old rivals Marseille on Sunday night after the southern club’s surprise win at the Parc des Princes in September.

After an uneven start to their season that saw PSG sack manager Thomas Tuchel and replace him with ex-Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, the Parisians face their ancient rivals Marseille at the Veodrome on February 7 as they seek to leapfrog their three point gap with league leaders Lille.

PSG’s greatest star Neymar is back on the teamsheet as they aim for payback tonight, after several days of doubts due to a bout of gastroenteritis.

But the Parisians will have to do without goalkeeper Keylor Navas due to an adductor issue, while all-round defender Thimothée Pembélé is off the cards after contracting Covid-19.

Like Neymar, midfield lynchpin Marco Verratti will play after a recent bout of injury, having recently recovered from the coronavirus.

Marseille in crisis

The Parisians head to the Mediterranean coast in a very different context from the one that saw Marseille stun them on home turf. At that point OM – as French fans call them – were imposing themselves as title contenders in a barnstorming season.

But Marseille have since gone into meltdown. They have not won in a month, with three consecutive defeats including a loss to bottom-placed Nantes.

Police made 25 arrests after a group of Marseille ultras stormed the club’s training ground on January 30. After entering the property they threw projectiles – giving defender Alvaro Gonzales a back injury – and set off firecrackers and smoke bombs, causing thousands of euros’ worth of damage. The club postponed their encounter with Rennes in the wake of the incident.

While refraining from such violence, many OM fans are fed up with the club’s poor performance. Supporters are particularly unhappy about what they see as a lack of investment since American businessman Frank McCourt bought the club in 2016.

Then came a strange turn of events in which Marseille’s board left the club without a manager, suspending coach André Villas-Boas – the well-respected former Chelsea boss – on February 2 instead of accepting his offer to resign after they signed Celtic midfielder Olivier Ntcham on loan behind his back. This left the team without a manager.

>> 'Le Classique', French football's fallen icon

With the exception of September’s surprising OM triumph, today’s state of affairs is a far cry from the epic PSG-Marseille encounters of the late '80s and '90s, from which their burning rivalry emerged. Set up in 1899, Marseille were a significant force in the French game throughout most of the twentieth century. PSG were only founded in 1970 – before innovative manager Gérard Houllier steered them to their first Ligue 1 title in 1986.

But unfortunately for the Parisian side, this was while OM were just entering their golden age.

French businessman and politician Bernard Tapie bought Marseille in 1986. He poured forth money to recruit top talent such as Ghanaian attacking midfielder Abedi Pelé, French defender Basile Boli and English winger Chris Waddle. Outstanding young players were also cultivated – most notably Eric Cantona, Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly, who all went on to become French footballing icons.

In the Tapie era, OM won three successive Ligue 1 titles from 1989 to 1992, came second in the 1991 European Cup, then won that tournament in its first incarnation as the Champions League, in 1993. The Marseille of that era were arguably the greatest team in the history of French football.

Yet their Parisian adversaries were still good enough to provide tough competition. Most notably, towards the end of the 1989-90 season, when Marseille were swaggering along to their inevitable capture of the Ligue 1 title, PSG managed to rain on their parade with a 2-1 victory, gifted by a late, great header from Croatian striker Zlatko Vujovic.

Then, in 1991, PSG got their own sugar daddy – or, rather, sugar corporation. Canal +, France’s biggest pay TV network, bought the Parisian club and injected the necessary funds to buy gifted players such as Liberian striker George Weah – widely regarded as the greatest African footballer of all time – and iconic French midfielder David Ginola.

It became clear just how much PSG had upped their game in a famous match in May 1993, which would decide that season’s Ligue 1 title. At the apex of their glory days, Marseille had just returned to France after winning the Champions League.

Flagging after their European victory and celebrations, OM initially proffered little opposition against a fiercely determined PSG side that went 1-0 up in the 8th minute and were unlucky not to have made it into a rout. Nevertheless, Marseille soon burst into life, turning the game around with three goals, including an astonishing ensemble effort consummated by a Basile Boli header.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)