Le Classique is the biggest fixture in French football and, even behind closed doors, the latest meeting of Olympique de Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain at the Orange Vélodrome on Sunday is not to be missed. Ligue1.com provides you with five reasons to tune in:
For the history
Fifty years on from their first encounter in 1971, OM and PSG clash for the 100th time in all competitions. Over the years their rivalry has developed into the biggest in France, between the aristocrats from the capital and the team of the country’s second city, the bustling Mediterranean port with an ambience almost worthy of a different continent, never mind a different country.
On the pitch it is a rivalry that took off in the early 1990s, when pay TV giant Canal + took over at PSG and emerged as the main challengers to Bernard Tapie’s Marseille, the dominant club of the era. The fixture began to attract huge crowds, although for a long time it was a rather one-sided rivalry. Between 1990 and 1998, Paris only beat Marseille once in 15 meetings, and that was in a Coupe de France semi-final when OM were in the second division.
After that PSG started to gain the upper hand, claiming eight straight victories in the fixture between 2002 and 2004. When Eric Gerets and then Didier Deschamps were in charge of Marseille, the balance of power in French football briefly swung to the Vélodrome and they duly dominated Le Classique, but then the Qatar Sports Investments takeover of Paris changed everything. The Parisians did not lose any of their 20 meetings with Marseille between 2012 and 2019. OM finally ended that particular run by winning 1-0 at the Parc des Princes last September, only for the capital club to win 2-1 in the Trophée des Champions in Lens just last month, in the 99th clash of the titans. Here are the highlights of that game:
For the on-pitch rivalries
There are fixtures steeped in history and which mean everything to supporters of both sides, but perhaps less to the players involved. But memories of the last Ligue 1 Uber Eats encounter between these teams will fire up both sets of players on Sunday. Marseille’s 1-0 win in Paris in September (see video below) ended with five red cards being dished out in the dying minutes, with Layvin Kurzawa, Leandro Paredes and Neymar Jr. all being sent off as PSG finished the match with eight men, while Marseille ended down to nine men as Jordan Amavi and Dario Benedetto were dismissed. Referee Benoît Bastien could have his work cut out ensuring tempers don’t flare on the field this time.
To see Neymar
The world’s most expensive player returns well rested for PSG after missing the 3-0 midweek win over Nîmes Olympique as he served a suspension. This is a big game for the Brazilian, who last week told TF1 he was “really happy” in Paris and “wants to stay at PSG”. It has since been widely reported that agreement has been reached for Neymar to sign a contract extension, with his existing deal expiring at the end of next season.
He will be welcomed back by coach Mauricio Pochettino, having scored three times in his last two Ligue 1 appearances, against FC Lorient and Montpellier Hérault SC. Neymar also has quite a track record in Le Classique - he came off the bench to score a decisive penalty in last month’s Trophée des Champions, making up for his red card as Paris lost at home to OM in September. In his first Classique in October 2017, Neymar scored but was later sent off in a 2-2 draw watched by more than 60,000 fans (see video below). And it was in the return fixture against OM that season, at the Parc des Princes in February 2018, that he suffered the foot injury which left him in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup in Russia.
For its importance in the title race
PSG’s fifth defeat of the season last weekend at struggling Lorient has further decreased their margin for error in the title race. After the midweek round, Pochettino’s men were third, three points behind leaders LOSC, one point beneath Olympique Lyonnais in second, and three points clear of AS Monaco in fourth. By kick-off time at the Vélodrome they will know the results of all their challengers, but it is looking like Paris are in for their toughest title fight since being pipped to the crown by Monaco in 2017. Ironically that was a season in which they beat OM 5-1 when the rivals met at the Vélodrome.
To see how Marseille will react after a tense week
What a last week it has been for OM. It started with the attack on the club’s training ground, La Commanderie, by a group of around 300 supporters last Saturday, with an angry protest against poor results and club management leading to 25 arrests and the postponement of their home game with Stade Rennais FC that night. Then, on Tuesday, coach André Villas-Boas announced in a press conference that he wanted to resign after midfielder Olivier Ntcham was signed on loan from Celtic against his will. Marseille responded by “suspending” the Portuguese, the start of the process of definitively parting company with him.
And so academy chief Nasser Larguet took charge of the team for Wednesday’s game at RC Lens, in which Marseille surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2. A run of one win in nine Ligue 1 Uber Eats games has seen the team slump from potential title contenders down to ninth. It is one win in 10 matches in all competitions when you include the Trophée des Champions loss to PSG last month. In that context, this hardly seems the ideal fixture for Marseille to face next.