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Le Classique: Grudge match

Publish on 24/10/2019 at 13h00

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This Sunday's clash between PSG and OM continues a rich tradition of intense rivalry that dates back decades. Take a trip down memory lane with some of the fixture's key characters as we take a look at Le Classique!

The date was 5 May 1989. Marseille hosted Paris Saint-Germain in a particularly tense encounter. Four games from the end of the season, the Parisians were just one point ahead of OM at the top of the table.

Genesis

This match had the feel of a final about it, and it was the game from which the Spanish term Classico was first given its French twist: Le Classique...

Marseille hero and 1991 Ballon d'Or winner Jean-Pierre Papin remembers it well.

"We were neck and neck the whole season. PSG played a very defensive game under Tomislav Ivic, while we went out to attack," the legendary striker told the Ligue 1 Show. "The game was also a close-run thing. Ten minutes from the end, Paris hit the bar before Franck Sauzée scored a 90th minute winner for us. This game is perhaps where the roots of Le Classique come from."

Tension rises

Marseille won that game and went on to win four consecutive French league titles. At the beginning of the 90s, the Parisian club was taken over by the media giant Canal+. With animosity spiralling between the two clubs, Le Classique - as it had become known - also became a powder keg of tension and the game of the season. Luis Fernandez was regularly at the heart of these titanic duels, first as a player and then in two stints as PSG coach.

"There was no need to motivate the players for these matches, no need for strong words or speeches," recalled Fernandez. "We knew it and they knew it: they'd all be up for it."

If OM PSG clashes were wine, then the one from October 2002 was a classic vintage. The Parc des Princes was lit up by a 22-year-old Brazilian named… Ronaldinho, who inspired the Parisians to a 3-0 victory. Coach Luis Fernandez celebrated with a now famous dance.

"That match was different, it was special, much anticipated," recalled Fernandez. "When we won, I started dancing. I've been criticised for that dance ever since, but it's part of history now. I was happy - because of the victory and the joy of the fans and that's the most important thing about it."

Between 1994 and 2010 neither club won the Ligue 1 Conforama title. But that did nothing to reduce the stature of Le Classique, nor its tension. However, that changed in 2010, when a 3-0 win at the Parc led to Marseille scooping a tenth French title.

The Qatari era

A year later, PSG were taken over by current owners Qatar Sports Investments, who brought in world-class players year after year. It didn't stop PSG losing the next Classico though - 3-0 at the Stade Vélodrome in November 2011. But that remains Marseille's last win in the fixture, Paris are now unbeaten in 15 against their southern rival and have clinched the title six times since.

"It's not like it was in the past. In the past, everyone, for their part, could afford players of the same calibre and there was not too much difference in their level," continued Fernandez. "Now, the difference is much greater."

Papin: 'You never know...'

Despite the difference in budgets, Papin insists Le Classique remains etched in history, and will always be a battle.

"To describe the clubs' rivalry, I'd say it's bursting with animosity and aggression. It will remain a classic whatever happens, because Marseille-Paris is a particular type of match and everyone knows it," enthused the elder statesman. "But all things considered, OM don't stand much chance of winning this game. But in football, you never know, sometimes you do not know why, but the smaller team, in this case Marseille, are able to beat the bigger one."

And the big one promises to be impressive once again this season. PSG's new signings - Idrissa Gueye, Mauro Icardi, Pablo Sarabia and Abdou Diallo - have all settled well and the Parisian machine looks well oiled and built to win in all circumstances.

"What is impressive about PSG is the individual strengths coming together in the squad. I think this year the team has been reinforced in every position," said Papin. "And no matter who plays, the team is so strong, I think it's a big plus for them."

Papin: 'Shake Paris up'

In Marseille, fans are confident of an upset. In Dario Benedetto, OM finally seem to have found a real number nine. The Argentine, a former Boca Juniors star, already has five goals this season, not to mention a certain swagger.

"He is a very, very good player, a very good recruit. When you're at this club and you start scoring goals, you have to make everybody aware that you're the main man. And that's not what I have always seen," observed Papin. "OM need to make your number nine shine. Even if you are decisive in games, you have to make your number nine score, because you know that whatever happens, he is an important element."

In Paris, Benedetto will lead the Marseille attack, supported by Dimitri Payet, who returns from suspension. The challenge? Taking apart a defence who have conceded just five goals in 10 games this season.

"I think that when you play PSG you can't think of just defending. You have to try to score goals. Yes, it's difficult because they are still one of the best teams in Europe today, with a squad that is quite frankly out of this world," offered Papin. "But you have to try to shake Paris up by running at them, by putting yourself about. When you play against PSG it's easy to just watch them play and not dare to push forward, but if you do that, you're already dead."

Meunier warns against complacency

The latest crop of rivals meet again on Sunday to write the latest chapter in this fascinating story. Despite recent domination from the Parisians, who have won eight of the nine encounters in the capital, this fixture remains a special one for the players, as PSG full-back Thomas Meunier explained.

"It's important to have rivalries in football - as long as they are good natured," declared the Belgium right-back. "They are great games to be a part of. There is extra excitement, extra pressure and that is what creates special memories for players and fans alike, being part of these occasions."

League leaders PSG begin as favourites once again. Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe will be present, having inspired the team to a 3-1 victory last season. But, despite their dominance, Meunier remains wary of complacency creeping in.

Meunier: 'Make the difference'

"Benedetto is in good form; he scores in almost every game he plays," continued Meunier. "They've got a strong team and we shouldn't underestimate them."

Without injured stars Neymar and Idrissa Gueye, Thomas Tuchel will have to rethink his line-up ahead of one of the most important games of the season.

"On the back of the performances we've put in recently, we have to be able to make the difference at home to Marseille," said Meunier. "It's crucial, we've got the bit between our teeth and we know that there is a real fervour. That serves as motivation!"

 

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