Though European football has been in full swing this week, the most talked about game in l’Hexagone has been the Derby de France...
Parc des Princes, Paris
On Sunday, Ligue 1’s most anticipated fixture of the season will take place in the Parc des Prince, where Paris Saint-Germain meet Olympique de Marseille in the Derby de France.
It’s not been a pretty season for PSG, who currently reside 15th in Le Championnat, well off the pace of the teams searching for European football next term. After significant summer investment and the decision to appoint Antoine Kombouare as head coach, things haven’t really gone to plan for les Parisiens.
The winter break was supposed to provide the Parc des Princes club with a chance to take stock and emerge rejuvenated in 2010, but PSG have only nosedived since the turn of the year. Four defeats in their first four Ligue 1 games, coupled with an embarrassing loss to Guingamp in the Coupe de la Ligue, have left the capital club under pressure, though Kombouare has largely remained omitted from criticism.
There has been no investment in the side, with rumours in the press that suggested a January move for Jesus Datolo or even Jeremy Menez could be made remaining just whispers, much to the annoyance of the capital club’s fans.
As a result, they’ve not been slow to voice their disapproval with some of their club’s performances, most notably a 3-0 defeat at home against Lorient. However, the home fans watched their side scrape out a 1-0 victory over Toulouse, who were reduced to ten men early on.
Les Parisiens once more risk the wrath of their fans should they struggle against les Phoceens in France’s most fiercely competitive fixture.
It’s Not War
If PSG are a squad largely descending, the opposite can be said of Olympique de Marseille, who have surged back into title contention after a fine start to 2010. OM have lost only twice since the winter break, against Racing Club de Lens in the Coupe de France and versus Montpellier in the league, but otherwise they have been largely flawless.
February was expected to be a really testing month for Didier Deschamps’ men, but they have come through their seven games to date this month with an impressive six victories, the last three of which have all been by a 3-1 scoreline. The latest of these came against Copenhagen in the Europa League on Thursday, a game in which les Phoceens did their best not to totally exert the full squad.
Sunday’s Championnat match certainly takes precedence in the view of the fans, though Gabriel Heinze has been keen to play down the importance of this encounter.
“This is not war. It's a game that is won, lost or ends in a draw. That's it!” said the former PSG man, who is pledging a spirit of peace prior to a notoriously fiery encounter, to his club’s official website. “It's better for football that our fans go there for the game [and not to cause trouble] because it's a great atmosphere.
“I have no fear; I'll just play a game of football. Everyone wants to play a Clasico because it is the finest game of the year.”
Though these encounters are always exceptionally important in the eyes of the fans, for OM it is especially so. Les Phoceens are only six points from leaders Girondins de Bordeaux’s pace and need three points to stay in touch at the top.
WON 2-1 (h) Toulouse (Ligue 1, February 20)
DREW 0-0 (a) Nancy (Ligue 1, February 13)
WON 1-0 (a) Vesoul (Coupe de France, February 9)
LOST 3-0 (h) Lorient (Ligue 1, February 6)
LOST 2-1 (a) Olympique Lyonnais (Ligue 1, January 31)
WON 3-1 (h) Copenhagen (Europa League, February 25)
WON 3-1 (h) Nancy (Ligue 1, February 21)
WON 3-1 (a) Copenhagen (Europa League 18)
WON 2-1 (a) Monaco (Ligue 1, February 13)
LOST 3-1 (a) Racing Club de Lens (Coupe de France, February 10)
Antoine Kombouare has a handful of selection worries going into Sunday’s game, with the suspended duo of Mamadou Sakho and Stephane Sessegnon the two big absentees.
Gregory Coupet is the only other worry, though he should return in the near future.
Probable Starting XI: Edel; Ceara, Traore, Camara, Armand; Giuly, Clement, Makelele, Chantome; Hoarau, Erding
OM don’t have a whole heap of problems going into the weekend’s fixture. Mamadou Niang wasn’t risked in midweek but should feature from the outset on Sunday, while Cyril Rool, Julien Rodriguez and Brandao are the only players carrying knocks.
Stephane Mbia comes back into the squad after midweek suspension.
Probable Starting XI: Mandanda; Bonnart, Diawara, Heinze, Taiwo; Cheyrou, Mbia; Valbuena, Lucho, Ben Arfa; Niang
PLAYERS TO WATCH
This will be Claude Makelele’s final Derby de France, having announced his decision to retire earlier this week. The former France international has become synonymous with the holding midfield role and will look to bow out on a high. Sunday’s game will be one of the last great tests of the veteran’s career.
OM are a side with several players in form, as the call ups of Hatem Ben Arfa, Benoit Cheyrou and Steve Mandanda to the national team prove. However, Mamadou Niang remains the player on which les Phoceens depend on most. The powerful Senegalese striker struck a hat-trick against Nancy last weekend and is Ligue 1’s top scorer. If PSG are to pick up anything, the 30-year-old must be stopped.
Even though Marseille were forced to play in midweek, the visitors start this game as significant favourites. OM have been in terrific form of late, in total contrast to their opponents, and will fancy their chances of picking up three more points to maintain their title push.
Paris Saint-Germain 1-3 Olympique de Marseille