Preview: France Agog With Le Classique Double Bout

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France is about to be lit up with a double bout of its biggest rivalry, Le Classique. France’s El Clasico, as some like to all it, is a battle of France’s two most popular teams, the biggest teams from France’s largest cities. Lovers of French Football are excited and they absolutely ought to be. It is about to be a very exciting next five days. It’s Paris Saint-Germain vs Olympique de Marseille!

The last time the two Le Classique rivals met was back in October. It was a game that had everything – twists, turns, drama, tackles, loads of yellow cards, a red card and a last minute goal. The game happened at loud Stade Vélodrome and had 60, 410 people in attendance. They witnessed a spectacle, an exciting 2-2 draw. The loudest cheer was heard when superstar Neymar was sent off with three minutes left and Marseille leading 2-1. PSG were heading for their first defeat in all competitions before Cavani’s 93rd minute free kick led to wild celebrations amongst the Parisiens. A first defeat of the season at the home of their eternal rivals would probably have stung.

Paris Saint-Germain take on Olympique de Marseille at Parc des Princes on Sunday night. The last time they met in Ligue 1 at this venue, it ended goalless. It came as a surprise because Marseille went into that game in horrible form. Then again, that is the thing about games like this – the players always rise to the occasion because they understand how important it is to the fans. This time, Marseille come into this game in red hot form and within touching distance of PSG. There is a lot at stake for them. Following six wins in their last eight games, Marseille are third, thirteen points behind PSG. They know a defeat in this game effectively takes them out of the title race. A win would take them to within ten points of PSG and keep them still in with an outside chance of pulling off an incredible feat. Even though hoping PSG drop ten points in the final eleven games might be fantasy, stranger things have happened in football.

Following their capitulation against Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League second round tie, morale in the PSG camp has been down. The excitement that came with having Neymar and seeing him consistently put out excellent performances weekly has slowly faded following that game. They understand that winning Ligue 1 might not be enough to fix the heartache that would follow another second round CL exit. In spite of that, it is important for them to keep their Ligue 1 title chase steady. It is still important. Two consecutive years without the title would be disastrous. As it is, the title is all but sealed, a win over Marseille would just be the icing on the cake.

Fans are getting a double bout of Le Classique this time. After the Ligue 1 game on Sunday, there is a follow-up. On Wednesday, they meet again at the same venue for their Coupe de France Quarter Final clash. Oh how Marseille would love to knock PSG out of a competition that has practically turned into their own. PSG have won the last three Coupes de France, beating Marseille in the final of the 2016 edition. There’s no better time for Marseille to get revenge. This game probably has more significance for them as it is probably their best chance to get silverware this season.

PSG come into both games as favourites. They are still a stronger side than Ruudi Garcia’s side and have not lost against Marseille since 2012. They will look to Neymar and Cavani for leadership and hope both men can deliver victories in both games. Cavani has already hit 30 goals this season, with Neymar on 28. Both men scored in the Ligue 1 clash in October. Also, Cavani is the joint-third highest goalscorer in Le Classique history with 5 goals.

Marseille come into both games as underdogs. They have lost only one Ligue 1 game (against Lyon) since that embarrassing home loss against Rennes in September. Garcia has done a solid job of making them difficult to beat since then. The star man is Florian Thauvin who has been absolutely fantastic all season. Payet has been excellent too, as has Luiz Gustavo. How these three men play will determine how good Marseille will do in both games. They are that key. Thauvin and Gustavo both scored in the October game – Gustavo delivered a man of the match performance, completely outplaying PSG’s midfield. Rami and Rolando will have to be at their best to keep Cavani quiet with Anguissa and Gustavo checking Neymar’s runs to the centre. It promises to be another spectacle.

Stats:
Le Classique Games played – 92
PSG Wins – 38
OM wins – 32
Draws – 22
PSG Goals – 126
OM wins – 115

Key Players:
PSG – Cavani, Neymar, Verratti
OM – Thauvin, Payet, Gustavo

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