Lionel Messi will experience French football’s biggest fixture for the first time when he takes to the field at the Orange Vélodrome on Sunday as Olympique de Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain clash in Le Classique.
Olympique de Marseille - Paris Saint-Germain Sunday at 20:45 CET (1845 GMT)
Messi is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Clásico in Spain with 26 goals for Barcelona against Real Madrid. Having crossed the Pyrenees in a stunning move to Paris in August, the Argentinian will now get to sample the heated atmosphere that always awaits the capital club when they go to Marseille. In terms of the passion of the crowd, there is arguably no other occasion like it in Europe. OM coach Jorge Sampaoli, who managed Messi and Argentina at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, already knows all about the atmosphere in Marseille, but this will also be his first taste of Le Classique.
When Messi, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, walks out onto the field with his team-mates, he will be hoping to mark the occasion with his first goal in Ligue 1 since signing for PSG. So far Messi has featured sparingly in domestic competition for his new club - he has made just three league appearances, starting just twice, for a total of 190 minutes. He has actually played more minutes (270) in the UEFA Champions League, and has already netted three times in Europe, including a brace in Tuesday’s 3-2 victory against RB Leipzig at the Parc des Princes.
Watch: PSG come from behind to beat Angers
PSG’s addition of Messi gives them an even greater advantage in a fixture they have come to dominate in the last decade, since the Qatari takeover of 2011. Since losing 3-0 at the Vélodrome in November of that year, PSG have been beaten just once in 23 meetings with their bitter rivals in all competitions. That was a 1-0 loss at the Parc des Princes in September last year, when only a very limited number of spectators were allowed in because of the pandemic. They have won six and drawn two of their last eight visits to the Vélodrome, including a 2-0 victory last season.
“We can feel that there are more than just the three points at stake. It is a bit bigger than that for everyone,” said PSG’s Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera. “We know this is not a normal match for the supporters and for the club.”
Mauricio Pochettino’s team are top of the table, nine points ahead of RC Lens in second coming into the weekend, and 10 clear of OM, who do nevertheless have a game in hand. PSG have also had longer to recover from their midweek exertions than Sampaoli’s side, who drew 0-0 away to Lazio in the Europa League on Thursday.
That could be crucial, although there remain concerns in Paris about the way in which the league leaders have been performing. Against Leipzig it was a disjointed display, but they were saved by the brilliance of Kylian Mbappé and Messi. Recent league showings have been uninspired, including last weekend when they came from behind to beat Angers SCO 2-1 with a late Mbappé penalty.
Watch: Marseille rip apart Lorient
Marseille, meanwhile, ended a run of three league games without a win by battling back to hammer FC Lorient 4-1 in Round 10. They were back to their seductive best going forward, with Dimitri Payet involved in every goal, Arkadiusz Milik scoring for the first time this season after injury, and Mattéo Guendouzi scoring one goal while also making two more. They know that a win here, and another in a rearranged game against OGC Nice next week, would leave them all of a sudden only four points adrift of the title favourites at the top of the table.
Nobody on La Canebière should be getting too carried away just yet. Fitness is a concern, with Sampaoli making only one change to his team between Lorient and Lazio - Cengiz Ünder returned after suspension in Rome, with Konrad de la Fuente making way. “We will need to see how the players recover, because for this type of game you need everyone to be at 100 percent,” Sampaoli said when asked if he was considering changes against Paris.
Because this game has more than a hint of an Argentinian accent, the visitors can also welcome back Ángel di María from his European suspension. Mauro Icardi could be involved too, having sat out the Leipzig game due to personal problems. Leadro Paredes is out, however, along with Sergio Ramos. Neymar Jr. is hoping to return after missing out in midweek with an adductor problem.
Marseille: Lopez; Saliba, Balerdi, Peres; Rongier, Kamara, Guendouzi; Ünder, Payet; Milik
PSG: Navas; Hakimi, Marquinhos, Kimpembe, Diallo; Herrera, Verratti, Gueye; Messi, Mbappé, Neymar