By Kris Voakes
It may not have given them the answers to some of Laurent Blanc’s selection headaches, but Paris Saint-Germain’s victory over Marseille on Sunday did provide a wake-up call to the rest of Ligue 1.
Much has been said about the inability so far to get the very best out of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani at the same time, but the character and quality of the French champions cannot be questioned after a come-from-behind Classique win at the Stade Velodrome which was achieved in the face of adversity.
A man short for the final hour, les Parisiens responded to the situation they found themselves in superbly, reminding the rest of the league that while they may not yet be nearly as devastating as some predicted, they have enough experience and expertise to get three points even when the odds are against them.
When Thiago Motta was late to a bouncing ball in his own box and caught Mathieu Valbuena’s boot, referee Clement Turpin quite rightly pointed to the penalty spot. But when the Italo-Brazilian eventually regained his feet, he was greeted with a very harsh red card.
The PSG players protested the decision long and hard, and could easily have responded to Andre Ayew’s resulting strike by feeling sorry for themselves. Instead they reacted like champions. They put the emphasis on possession, making up for the numerical disadvantage by making the ball do the extra work.
Character | Ibrahimovic's penalty was a deserved reward for PSG's admirable spirit
Getting in front of Rod Fanni on the stroke of half-time, Maxwell headed home a delicately chipped cross from Gregory van der Wiel as Steve Mandanda flew out unnecessarily. When down to 10 men, teams don’t normally send both full-backs forward simultaneously, but PSG did and got the greatest of rewards.
While the capital club showed a sense of adventure, Marseille did not. When the visitors had long periods on the ball in their own half, there seemed to be very little intention from les Phoceens to press them into a sense of urgency, allowing Blanc’s men to dictate the pace and flow despite their shortage in numbers. Adrien Rabiot and particularly Marco Verratti saw far more of the ball than should have been allowed.
What’s more, the home side gave Turpin the perfect opportunity to level up the penalty stakes when Ayew made a clumsy challenge on Marquinhos with the Brazilian between he and the ball. Ibrahimovic overcame the distractions of lasers beamed from the crowd to slot the spot-kick past Mandanda and give PSG a deserved lead.
Elie Baup’s men had no response. They had come close early on when Jordan Ayew and Valbuena forced Salvatore Sirigu into a fine double stop and the Italian got lucky when his soft glove to Dimitri Payet’s long-range drive deflected the ball just wide of the post, but ultimately they made nothing like the number of opportunities that may have been expected of a side playing with an extra man for so long.
On a night when the embryonic title race could have been spiced up by the demotion of the champions to third place, Marseille instead find themselves four points adrift of joint-leaders PSG and Monaco. Unbeaten in 27 games and still with room for improvement, les Parisiens look as strong as ever.