EUROPEAN football fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) is chasing a fifth European NAP winner in six weeks on Sunday night as France's two oldest rivals cross swords on the south coast.
Marseille v PSG | Sunday 28th October 2018, 20:00 | BT Sport
There’s been a fair degree of soul-searching taking place across France over the past 48 hours. After another dismal midweek of European action involving Ligue 1 clubs, French teams have managed to now win just 3/18 (17%) continental clashes this season – their lowest percentage return since 1972/73.
With the domestic title race already looking done and dusted – PSG are eight points clear after a record-breaking start to the season, winning all 10 matches – the locals can be forgiven for looking elsewhere for their entertainment fix. However, Sunday night’s Le Classique has the potential to thrill.
A meeting with PSG at the Stade Velodrome is the match no Marseille fan wants to miss out on; it’s a historic rivalry between the side from the south and the club from the capital. Marseille’s players and supporters always seem capable of rising two feet taller for the challenge, even if they’ve not often come out on top.
Marseille to raise their game
Indeed, only last season Les Phoceens put Les Parisians under the pump here, edging a hum-dinger of a contest until Edinson Cavani's last-gasp leveller at the end of stoppage time salvaged an undeserved point for the champions. L’OM ripped into PSG from the first whistle and a similar approach seems probable.
Rudi Garcia’s group were below-par on Thursday night when losing 3-1 at home to Lazio on Europa League duty. Last season’s beaten finalists never looked like causing the Serie A side too many headaches, whilst the sight of Dimitri Payet and Adil Rami arguing at full-time suggested things aren’t all well at the club.
Nevertheless, Marseille will have known there were bigger fish to fry on Sunday night and a more cohesive, energetic and physical performance is anticipated from the hosts, who are looking for their first success over the enemy in seven years since the Qatari reign started.
Indeed, Les Phoceens have returned just W0-D3-L16 in their past 19 meetings with all-conquering guests and the pre-match odds suggest Garcia’s troops are unlikely to end that record. Marseille are as big as 6/1 (BetVictor) to win this weekend, a price that implies just a 14% chance of victory.
PSG have their weaknesses
There’s no doubt PSG are the dominant force in French football but that’s not to say they’re infallible. Thomas Tuchel’s troops scarped a last-gasp draw against Napoli in midweek at the Parc des Princes with neither Kylian Mbappe, Neymar nor Edison Cavani putting in a performance to be proud of.
Most alarming for Les Parisians was the attacking trio’s lack of desire to contribute to defensive duties. And with PSG struggling for backline bodies and defensive midfield men this term, there’s certainly areas of weakness within Les Rouges et Bleu’s roster.
Centre-back Marquinhos has been forced to play in the holding role on numerous occasions and could fill that berth should Thiago Silva be passed fit. Silva was absent against Napoli and should he be unavailable, the inexperienced Thilo Kehrer could start with Lassana Diarra coming into midfield.
Despite racking up three or more goals in all 10 of their Ligue 1 tussles this term, PSG are giving their opponents opportunities, conceding 0.95 Expected Goals per-game, and over 10 attempts per-match. That’s far from ideal against one of France’s most offensively-minded clubs.
Goals on the agenda
As the odds suggest, PSG should still succeed on Sunday night but I’m confident Marseille can put the capital club under pressure, and at least get on the scoresheet. Only the pre-match favourites have bettered Marseille’s 22-goal tally after 10 rounds of action with the hosts firing in 8.30 shots from inside the box on average.
The mercurial talents of Florian Thauvin – expected to overcome injury to play – and Dimitri Payet make up for the lack of clinical edge from Kostas Mitroglou and Valere Germain, whilst Luiz Gustavo and Lucas Ocampos return from suspension, giving the L’OM side a much more balanced feel.
The home side have scored at least twice in 18/24 (75%) Velodrome outings since the start of last season, only once failing to notch. And their Ligue 1 games against top-five rivals averaged 4.00 goals per-game in 2017/18 with home ties producing full-time scores of 2-2, 2-2, 2-3 and 1-3.
I’ve already highlighted concerns in the PSG defence, although the visitors have struck at least twice in all bar one of their last 18 meetings with Marseille. Each of the past 10 head-to-heads have delivered three or more goals and it would be a great surprise should Sunday’s showdown fail to excite and entertain.
I’ll be backing Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 4/5 (Coral). It’s occurred in 7/9 (78%) of each of these teams’ home/away matches against top-six rivals over the past two campaigns, whilst in 2018/19 they’ve combined to score in 19/20 (95%) Ligue 1 dates, with a goals per-game average of 4.05.
Meanwhile, six of Marseille's last eight hosting top-six teams have featured at least four strikes and in all competitions this term, nine of their 13 matches have also produced Over 3.5 Goals. PSG have seen 12 of their 14 encounters in all competitions cross the 3.5 goals line.
Marseille v PSG – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (4/5 Coral)