Lionel Messi gets his first taste of French football’s biggest rivalry this weekend as Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain travel to face Marseille on Sunday.
A few hours after Messi’s old side Barcelona take on Real Madrid in the Clasico, the Argentinian will take to the field at the Velodrome in the fixture known as “Le Classique”.
It is a rivalry that grew in the early 1990s, when Marseille were the dominant force in French football and, for a short while, in Europe.
These days Qatar-owned PSG reign supreme in France, even if they missed out on the Ligue 1 title last season to Lille and their performances in this campaign have not always convinced.
They have won seven of the last eight meetings of the clubs across all competitions and have lost just once to OM in the last decade.
That 1-0 defeat in Paris came in a near-empty stadium at the start of the pandemic-affected last season. This time there will be a full house at the Velodrome as PSG aim to extend their 10-point advantage over Marseille, who are third and do have a game in hand.
Messi scored twice for PSG in their 3-2 win over RB Leipzig in the Champions League in midweek.
All three of his goals so far in a Paris shirt have come in Europe. Indeed he has played more minutes so far in the Champions League than he has in Ligue 1.
Kylian Mbappe, who scored the other goal against Leipzig, has been the main man for Mauricio Pochettino’s team this season, while Neymar has struggled for form.
The Brazilian could return from an adductor muscle problem at the ground where he was sent off in October 2017 as the heated atmosphere got to him.
Marseille, who played Lazio in the Europa League on Thursday, have entertained this season under Argentine coach Jorge Sampaoli but it remains to be seen if they are capable of competing with a PSG team that have won nine out of 10 league outings.
“It’s going to be a special occasion and a difficult match,” said PSG midfielder Ander Herrera.
“They are in good form, and there will be a bit more than just the usual three points at stake.”
Player to watch: Matteo Guendouzi
The 22-year-old moved to Marseille on loan from Arsenal in order to breathe life into his career, which had stalled in north London where he had been frozen out by manager Mikel Arteta.
After a spell at Hertha Berlin last season, Guendouzi now looks right at home under Sampaoli at Marseille and is flourishing in a midfield role which allows him to get forward and join the attack.
Guendouzi, who was a non-playing member of the France squad at the recent UEFA Nations League finals, scored one goal and made two more in Marseille’s 4-1 win over Lorient last weekend.
Now he comes up against PSG, the club he supported as a boy and with whom he began his career as a youth before leaving for Lorient aged 15.
10 – Dimitri Payet has scored 10 goals and provided 10 assists in Ligue 1 in 2021. According to Opta, the only other players in Europe’s top five leagues in double figures for goals and assists this year are Karim Benzema (24 and 11) and Memphis Depay (16 and 11).
1 – The number of Marseille wins against PSG in the last 10 years, across the last 23 meetings of the teams in all competitions.
12 – Claude Puel’s Saint-Etienne are on a 12-game winless run. If they fail to beat Angers on Friday they will equal their longest ever top-flight run without a victory of 13 games, which dates back to 1988.
Fixtures (kick-offs GMT)
Saint-Etienne v Angers (1900)
Nantes v Clermont (1500), Lille v Brest (1900)
Nice v Lyon (1100), Lens v Metz, Lorient v Bordeaux, Reims v Troyes, Rennes v Strasbourg (all 1300), Monaco v Montpellier (1500), Marseille v Paris Saint-Germain (1845)