Olympique De Marseille Are Out Of Europe, But Now It’s Crunch Time In The Ligue 1 Title Race Against Paris Saint-Germain

Goal.com's Robin Bairner explains that OM and PSG both have their problems as they head into their biggest match of the season on Sunday...
Rarely has France’s most fiercely contested fixture enjoyed such importance in recent seasons. Approaching Sunday’s Derby de France encounter at the Stade Velodrome, both Olympique de Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain are in the title race, four and seven points respectively behind leaders Lille.

Neither ARE in the flush of form at present. OM slipped 2-1 against les Dogues at home a fortnight ago before losing to Manchester United in the Champions League on Tuesday, while PSG were similarly eliminated from the Europa League in midweek and have not won in any of their last four games.

If things on the field aren’t going smoothly for two of France’s biggest clubs, there is an almost equal amount of strife away from the park, most notably for les Phoceens.

Brandao returned to Brazil for a break after legal problems in Provence prompted an indictment, while Lucho Gonzalez was the subject of an armed robbery at his house on Thursday, causing him to miss training on Friday and beginning a circulation of rumours that suggested he isn’t in the correct frame of mind to feature on Sunday night. The striker has since departed for Cruzeiro on loan, though OM have yet to ratify the deal, which was confirmed by the South American club on Saturday.

That matters are less dramatic in the capital is partly due to the headline-grabbing news in Provence. At the start of the week there threatened to be an eruption after les Parisiens surrendered a two-goal advantage at home against a Montpellier side who played almost half the match with 10 men. Worse for Antoine Kombouare’s team, after making a fast start to the game they spent the vast majority of the second half on the back foot repelling their depleted guests.

Nene was the player to whom the finger of blame was quickest to turn. After winning rave reviews this season, the Brazilian suddenly found himself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, with reports suggesting that Guillaume Hoarau was unimpressed by the left winger’s persistence in shooting when he was better placed.

Ligue 1 Standings After March 19
    P Pts GD
1 Lille 28 55 +22
2 Stade Rennais 28 50
3 Olympique Lyonnais 28 49
4 Olympique de Marseille 27 48 +16
5 Paris Saint-Germain 27 45 +13
6 Saint-Etienne 28 39

Captain Claude Makelele did little to ease the flames on Wednesday, when he told the media: “There are some issues which need to be sorted out between us. Some issues have caused friction within the group, but I am not worried about the squad.”

In the stands, PSG’s fans continue to reject the club’s primary owners, Colony Capital, whose attempts to sell les Rouge et Bleu are continually thwarted by their high asking price. Even if the Parc des Princes enjoyed a healthy attendance for Thursday’s game against Benfica, that was largely caused by Paris’ large Portuguese expatriate community turning out in force to cheers on the visitors.

Nene has come in for
criticism this week
Les Parisiens did manage to beat OM 2-1 in the capital earlier this season, but the momentum is presently with the Stade Velodrome club, who remain ferociously upbeat despite their recent issues.

Asked about the possibility of making a strong finish to the campaign, Marseille’s Stephane Mbia replied: “Why not? Don’t forget that we lost in Paris; we have revenge to take to make our say in the league.

“Honestly, morally, we are strong and we will show that on Sunday.

“Meeting PSG after the Champions League is ideal. I strongly hope that it will give us the same effect as losing to Benfica [in the Europa League] last season.”

OM’s mental toughness, which was so apparent last season, can be questioned after a nervy display in Manchester and their late loss to Lille. Victory in the Derby de France would certainly go some way to easing concerns over their immediate future, though both of these combustible sides are in a particularly tense state ahead of French football’s most explosive fixture.

Expect a cracker!

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