No surprises that this weekend’s Clasico is billed as our pick of the action as Paris Saint-Germain go up against Marseille in desperate need of three points to stay in the title race whilst l’OM want a win to salvage something from their season which has fallen to pieces in recent weeks. Last week’s defeat for PSG sees them still second only on goal difference but Montpellier have a crucial game in hand, intriguingly against les Phocéens as well and Didier Deschamps’ men could yet have a massive say in which way the title goes even though they no longer have a chance of winning it themselves.
With René Girard’s men taking on Sochaux on the Saturday evening, by the time PSG and OM kick-off Carlo Ancelotti’s men could be under incredible pressure. Having shipped an astonishing seven points in the last three games, the capital club’s bad run of form has allowed Lille to get back into the title race and should OM finish Sunday victorious and LOSC triumph at Brest on Saturday, one point will separate second and third place and Montpellier could potentially be six points clear of PSG come Wednesday night. A lot of maybes and what ifs right now but given some of the recent results and performances Ancelotti’s men have been exhibiting it is not beyond the realms of possibility.
What has become clear in recent weeks is that the Italian tactician is still not sure of his strongest team. The decision to drop Nenê and Mamadou Sakho for the ill-fated trip to Nancy was a mistake and a costly one at that, not only because the side dropped another three points but it exposed the fragile nature of the squad with the Brazilian winger’s reported fit demonstrating the sort of pressure les Rouge et Bleu are feeling right now. Perhaps they regret the premature trip to the recording studio which looks to have tempted fate!
If PSG are to win this game then Ancelotti will have to make some bold decisions and address some pressing issues, most notably the leaky defence which has slipped from being the league’s most stingy unit to the sixteenth best with the side shipping 16 goals in the last eight games (the same amount they conceded in the entire first part of the season under Antoine Kombouaré). Last weekend’s partnership of Zoumana Camara and Milan Biševac took fans by surprise and the addition of Sylvain Armand was unexpected too. Despite having invested €19 million on three defensive reinforcements (Alex, Maxwell and Thiago Motta), the backline has not tightened up and is making a mockery of Ancelotti’s decision to dispense with the services of the club’s two best defenders statistically from the start of the season; Camara and full-back Ceará.
Perhaps more frustrating than the defensive conundrum however, is the continued presence of Javier Pastore in the side with Ancelotti clearly struggling to find the best way to fit him into his first team plans. The record €42million signing has been fantastic at times for the club but at others he goes missing and sometimes disappears completely from games. The Argentine is a difficult player to accommodate because of his position on the pitch and given the players at Ancelotti’s disposal. With Jérémy Ménez, Guillaume Hoarau, Kévin Gameiro, Nenê, Mathieu Bodmer and Pastore all preferring attacking roles on the pitch, there are a limited number of spaces up for grabs. That inevitably leaves some sour faced at recent selections (Nenê and Gameiro) and thus exposes the fragile nature of the squad’s collective mentality currently.
When Manchester City came into the money in 2008, their first arrival was Robinho for a then epic club fee of £32.5 million and despite a promising start his career at Eastlands petered out into nothing and he was allowed to leave for roughly half of his original price two years later. The Brazilian never quite fit in Manchester and stories of unhappiness and homesickness were common before he made a loan switch back to his original club Santos where he regained some form, a few parallels with the Argentine already. Is Pastore PSG’s Robinho then? Watch this space…
Marseille on the other hand have nothing to lose with their season effectively over following their exit from the Champions League earlier in the week but there is one thing that is guaranteed to get the dysfunctional unit firing again: the chance to wreck their arch rival’s title dreams in Paris. Despite not being able to call on their boisterous fans for support as was the situation for PSG in their last encounter, the team will need no motivating as they look to prove a point and make a late dash for some sort of European qualification.
Despite Didier Deschamps being told earlier in the week that his job is safe despite Chairman Vincent Labrune branding the season a ‘sporting’ disappointment and admitting that the club will be parting with one or two stars this summer, a defeat to PSG could heap more pressure on the ailing southern giants.
So knowing that the stakes are high and setting my Parisian bias aside for a minute, I can see this game being extremely tight and a lot of it will hinge on what sort of team Ancelotti puts out. If he opts to keep the same side that faced Nancy then I can see the fans getting on the players’ backs straight away which will play into OM’s hands. If Sakho starts on the bench again and Momo Sissoko is leading the side I cannot see the team emerging victorious but if Ancelotti has the guts to try starting without Pastore and perhaps going with Nenê, Ménez and Bodmer behind Hoarau and possibly Gameiro too given the expected absence of Motta, then the fans will be right behind the side from the off.
Marseille stand a good chance of being able to come away with a victory on Sunday as never have PSG been so vulnerable this season and their defensive record suggests that OM will at least be able to score. The big question though is whether Ancelotti’s men will be able to score more goals against a slightly less porous and more established defence?
My prediction: I am going to say 2-1 to the hosts and it would not surprise me to see the goal coming extremely late in the game. I think the match will be a bit of an emotional roller-coaster for all involved – I for one will be in attendance with a spare set of Valbuena pants – and there will be times where PSG’s title bid will look in grave danger. However, I expect the capital club to snatch the points at the death and put the onus upon Montpellier ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Marseille.