PSG head to Marseille to prove they are still top dog

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

Paris Saint-Germain travel to face bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille at the Stade Velodrome on Sunday, buoyed by a breathtaking first half performance against Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday. After much had been made of Laurent Blanc's effective but unimaginative domestic tactics following last Saturday's 2-0 victory over Toulouse, the style of the victory over the Portuguese club demonstrated exactly what the Frenchman's side are capable of this season.

For the opening 30 minutes in midweek, PSG pulverised Jorge Jesus' Benfica side. It was a display that crucially matched the awesome collection of talent on display at the Parc des Princes with the style in which they are expected to win games.

"Barcelona-esque" seems to be the general consensus following the performance, but the trick for Blanc is to now get his side playing the same way as often as possible in the league.

While harder tests no doubt await the capital club in Europe, there are few sides on the continent that could have lived with PSG's first half showing on Wednesday. Replicating that sort of natural, flowing performance in Ligue 1 might prove problematic though, particularly against the smaller sides, as Toulouse showed last week.

Loathed rivals Marseille are next up for Blanc, and his side face a cauldron of vitriol at the Velodrome on Sunday night. It is a match that poses Le President a number of problems, not least that it is a game with huge importance attached to it.

Win and Blanc's start to life in the French capital will have exceeded all expectations following his underwhelming summer arrival. That is despite the fact that PSG are defending champions and still the strongest team in the country. Lose, however, and despite all of the progress made under the 47-year-old's tenure so far, the fans will be in a less-than-charitable mood going into the international break.

That will particularly be the case if Monaco, as expected, beat Saint-Etienne to keep the pressure on at the top of Le Championnat. All to gain, but also plenty to lose then. PSG's dominating midfield trio of Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti will again hold the key to potential victory over their despised rivals.

Marco Verratti appeal
APMarco Verratti will be vital in the middle of the park.

Marseille, despite being one of the better-equipped sides in Ligue 1 and now possessing genuine firepower up front (which was not the case last season), are coached by Elie Baup, who demonstrated last season that he knows how to frustrate sides and win ugly.

There is a danger for PSG that OM's negative tactics from last season will return in order to stand a chance of upsetting the side from the capital. In order to combat this, the midfield battle is absolutely pivotal and will decide what sort of game we see.

Le Classique will become Le Crassique if Marseille are able to control the early proceedings and implement last season's brand of boring, but effective, football. But if PSG can take control of the game early on, as they did against Benfica, they should have no problems in seeing off their hated rivals.

Matuidi, Motta and Verratti will come up against Gianelli Imbula and Alaixys Romao, two rock-solid midfielders, in the battle at the heart of the Velodrome pitch. Despite the energetic Imbula's impressive start to the season (he has already impressed in the Champions League), he is still making the step up to the top flight.

Limiting his importance for the hosts on Sunday will be a priority, as well as avoiding some brutal early exchanges with Togolese international Romao. Do that, and PSG will cut the supply line to the likes of Mathieu Valbuena, Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was so impressive against Benfica in midweek, will be the man PSG look to for inspiration going forward. Should the Swede be able to replicate his form from last season's 2-2 draw, in which he bagged two goals in the space of as many minutes, it is difficult to not see the defending champions walking away with three points. It is also the perfect match for Edinson Cavani to step back into the limelight following a disappointing showing against Benfica.

The fixture provides plenty of intrigue, but Blanc's history as an OM player adds extra spice to the occasion.

His past with Les Phoceens was a bone of contention with many PSG fans following his appointment, but for now he is just about past that issue. Losing ground at the top of Ligue 1, particularly to your bitter rivals who are currently just one point worse off, would see that good faith unravel for the former France coach.

Last season, the two sides met four times. PSG won three of those meetings at home and drew the other one away. This campaign their rivals have strengthened massively though and dominating OM will not be as straightforward, even if PSG themselves are stronger than they were last year.

PSG are chasing a first victory in Provence since 2008, when Guillaume Hoarau netted a double in a famous 4-2 triumph. How times change. PSG will be out to emphasise that exact point, as well as the continued gulf in quality between the two rivals, when they take to the Velodrome pitch on Sunday amid a ferocious atmosphere.

There is still nothing quite like Le Classique!


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