Three things we learned this week in Ligue 1

Le Classico: Marseille rue what might have been as Paris Saint-Germain maintain their derby hegemony

After weeks of great anticipation, Paris Saint-Germain welcomed their bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille to the capital city’s sixteenth arrondissement for Ligue 1’s biggest match of the season, Le Classico.

It was the home side that triumphed with two well work worked goals either side of half-time, narrowing the gap between themselves and league leaders Marseille to a single point.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable game which was played at a very impressive pace and lived up to its expectations as the premier advertisement for domestic Football in France.

The standard of play on show was of great quality and encouragingly thirteen of the players who played in the match began their careers in France.

Marseille started the match in their usual attacking 4-2-3-1 formation, with notable absentees Alaixys Romao and André Ayew missing the game through suspension.

Similarly, PSG made no systematic change to their set-up, playing in Laurent Blanc’s favoured 4-3-3 shape, with Thiago Motta and Gregory Van der Wiel also unavailable through suspension.

As a result, Marcelo Bielsa, who was leading his side into his first game against PSG, decide to recall the veteran Rod Fanni and boyhood OM fan Romain Alessandrini to the starting line-up, while Blanc decided to bring Marco Verratti and  the recently criticised Serge Aurier back into the fray.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who’d missed the previous eight matches for his side, began the match as an enviable option on the Parisien bench.

 

Surprisingly, it was the away side who started the game the more brightly, with Bielsa’s high pressing game appearing to pay dividends for his side, as they showed a remarkable lack of fear as they pushed their opponents almost right from kick-off. For the opening fifteen minutes of the match, Marseille looked relentless and PSG appeared to be feeling the brunt of their pressure.

Gignac hit the post very earlier on with a flicked header and Alessandrini came close with curled left-foot effort several minutes later. The away side seemed to want to play the game their way and it looked like that approach was going to pay off in the opening period.

It was at this stage that one of the most interesting aspects of the game began to develop, i.e. the enticing clash in the middle of the park between Verratti and Marseille’s Mario Lemina, with both players attempting to assert their dominance over each other.

What was refreshing about the game’s opening 30 minutes was the fact that it appeared to be a very genuine technical contest which was being played in a clean fashion, with no bookings being awarded – a rarity in derbies of such magnitude. The game also appeared to be very stretched with attacks from both sides following each other.

The attacking dimension of the game could be attributed to the fact that PSG looked to hit OM swiftly and decisively on the counter-attack when they won back possession. PSG’s decisiveness, which has at times being lacking this season, was clearly on show when they opened the scoring through Lucas on 38 minutes.

PSG captain Thiago Silva found Ezequiel Lavezzi with a floated diagonal ball. The Argentine played a clever one-two with Edinson Cavani before firing the ball across the Marseille six-yard box for his Brazilian teammate to tap in. It was a technically well worked goal , however Benjamin Mendy could have done better to track the striker’s run in behind him into the six-yard box.

The score remained the same at half-time and in the second half’s opening period PSG seemed quite content to invite Marseille to come forward and attack.

Aurier, a player whose ability has never been in doubt but has failed to maintain consistency this season, had what was probably his best game in a PSG shirt so far, proving his worth by preventing Mendy from making overlapping runs.

Maxwell played a similarly effective role at left-back, preventing Brice Dja Djé-Djé from doing the same on the right-wing. With the impact of their attacking full-backs limited, les Marseillais attempted to play through their opponents, with the midfield trio of Alessandrini, Payet and Thauvin attempting to feed Gignac through on goal with little effect.

It was another big match in which Florian Thauvin appeared to go missing at times and his frustrating night was brought to an end when he made away for Michy Batshuayi on 66 minutes. PSG reminded France of their impressive squad depth, a characteristic which Marseille appear to lack, when they brought both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Yohan Cabaye on for Lavezzi and the impressive Verratti  at the same time.

Marseille’s hopes of grabbing an equaliser were dealt a heavy blow just over ten minutes later when Gianni Imbula, who’d played an important central midfield role by marking interchangeably Javier Pastore and Blaise Matuidi, was harshly sent off by the referee Clément Turpin, when he stepped into Cabaye after losing control of the ball.

The decision was a real game changer, as it appeared to limit the effect of OM’s attacking game and Turpin has since admitted that he was wrong to issue the red card.

 

PSG then put the game beyond Marseille’s reach on 86 minutes when Cavani headed home from close range to give his side the three points. Ibrahimovic played a dynamic cross-field pass to the feet of Aurier, who after taking on Mendy swung in a inch-perfect cross for the Uruguayan international.

After the game Bielsa explained that he felt that the result was a fair reflection of the performance and in truth it probably was. Marseille bravely brought their own brand of football onto the highest stage in French domestic football and, for the first-period at least, looked like they could do the unthinkable and beat their rivals away from home.

However, as the game went on, PSG became more and more comfortable with their opposition, and Marseille’s inflexibility as result of their reliance on their usual style of play was quite telling.

Psychologically, the three points will come as a massive boost for Laurent Blanc’s side as not so long they found themselves seven points behind the league leaders, however they have successfully managed to narrow the gap and now have both Ibrahimovic and their captain Thiago Silva back fit.

For Marseille, the fact that the gap has closed so quickly will be of alarm. They will be hoping that André-Pierre Gignac, so prolific until recently, will be able to get back on the score sheet again, having now gone three Ligue 1 games without scoring.

Home win puts Lyon just three points behind Marseille

Ligue 1 has in recent years received criticism because of PSG’s perceived dominance at the top of the table, however this season so far appears to have marked a refreshing change to that trend.

As a result of their 3-1 win over strugglers Guingamp, Lyon are now just three points off first-placed Marseille and two points off PSG in second.

An opener from Ligue 1’s top scorer Alexandre Lacazette, who was deservedly recalled to the France squad for les Bleus’  upcoming matches against Albania and Sweden, and a double from France U21 midfielder Nabil Fekir impressed the home support at Stade de Gerland on Sunday afternoon.

Lyon opened the scoring after just seven minutes, when Lacazette pushed a back-post header past Jonas Lössl. Christophe Jallet and Clinton N’Jie then combined well to set Fekir up for Lyon’s second on 19 minutes.

Hubert Fournier’s side do at times please with their prowess when going forward and Lyon’s build-up play once again impressed in the passage of play which lead up to the goal.

 

On-loan Newcastle United midfielder Sylvain Marveaux pulled back a goal for the Breton side in stoppage time when he beat Lopes with a superb free-kick.

Fekir, one of  several Lyon’s youth products who have been involved in the OL first-team set-up this season, is proving himself as one of France’s most exciting prospects. The midfielder is always involved when plays and he made his presence felt when he scored his side’s second on 87 minutes to put the game beyond Guingamp’s reach. Before finishing coolly, he was picked-out superbly by Maxime Gonalons – the club captain and another Lyon player who has deservedly received a call up to the France squad.

Lyon’s form this season is certainly not going unnoticed by France manager Didier Deschamps and nor should it be. What’s most promising about Lyon’s game is the fact that the side’s backbone is made up of players such as Lopes, Gonalons and Lacazette, who were all formed at the club.

This young side has also shown impressive character to come back from such a disappointing start to the season to become probably Ligue 1’s best attacking side over the last eight weeks.

Bordeaux hold on to fourth place following week dominated by race row

Willy Sagnol was reduced to tears as a result of the emotion he felt during his Bordeaux side’s two-one away victory in Amiens against Lens.

In an interview with the regional daily Sud Ouest, Sagnol caused controversy this last week when he was quoted as saying that though ‘African players’ were ‘powerful’ and ‘ready to fight’, that they lacked ‘intelligence’ and ‘discipline’.

His comments drew widespread criticism, with former Marseille club president Pape Diouf calling on players to strike in response to Sagnol’s perceived ‘racist’ comments.

However, off-field issues aside, Bordeaux’s win was of important significance as it keeps them one point ahead of Nantes, who also won 2-1 away at Caen on Saturday.

 

Wahbi Khazri opened the scoring for the away side on 24 minutes with a very composed finish on the edge of box with his fourth goal of the season so far, after he coolly put the ball past the youthful Lensois goalkeeper Valentin Belon.

Four minutes before the break, Tunisia international Khazri was involved again when he fed Tcheik Diabaté through and the Malian international took the ball round Belon to score.

The goal appeared to be offside from replay images, but it remained as Bordeaux’s decisive goal of the match. The Girondins players then showed a gesture of solidarity to their coach by celebrating with him after their African striker scored. The emotion of the moment clearly took its toll on the Bordelais manager as tears began to stream.

In the second-half, Lens were awarded on 74 minutes perhaps the most dubious penalty of the season so far, after Bordeaux defender Marc Planus appeared to cleanly win a header above Pablo Chavarria.

Mikaël Lesage, renowned as one of Ligue 1’s strictest referees, pointed to the spot without hesitation, and Yoann Touzghar converted the resulting spot kick, making for a nervy end to the game for Bordeaux.

Lens replied late by applying extra pressure on their Bordelais visitors, but in the end Sagnol’s side held on for a valuable three points, which see Bordeaux remain above their two main rivals for fourth place so far this season, Nantes and Saint-Étienne, with the latter side drawing one-all at home against Monaco on Sunday.

The Author

Brendán MacFarlane

I'm a massive French football enthusiast, having fallen in love with all aspects and levels of the sport in France whilst working for a year in the town of Niort. As a French studies student, I'm constantly following what's going on in the French football media and bringing stories to the English-speaking world.

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