While Spain has El Clasico, France has Le Classique; another contest whose bitterness is exacerbated by political history and geographical division. The football rivalry between Olympique Marseilles and Paris St-Germain, who meet tomorrow, only goes back a quarter of a century when PSG finally began to challenge for titles. But culturally the nation's capital and biggest port have distrusted each other for centuries.
Marseilles are traditionally France's biggest club, and the only one to win the Champions League, although the 1993 success was marred by allegations of match-fixing. But since PSG were taken over by Qatari owners they have become the big spenders, splashing out £67m during the summer on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Thiago Silva. They joined Alex, Maxwell, Gregory van der Wiel, Thiago Motta, Javier Pastore, Blaise Matudi and Jérémy Ménez in a team of all talents. For coach Carlo Ancelotti, the title is the bare minimum he has to achieve.
Marseilles came 10th last year, 31 points behind PSG, 34 adrift of champions Montpellier. They won the French Cup but Didier Deschamps quit to coach France; Elie Baup, last employed taking Nantes to relegation in 2009, replaced him. Loanee Joey Barton was one of the highest-profile signings, and expectations were low.
Then OM began with six wins while PSG started with three draws. France was agog – along with a few Qataris. Ancelotti's team have since been winning, with Ibrahimovic prolific, while Marseilles lost 4-1 at Valenciennes last weekend enabling PSG to move within three points at the top. Marseilles regained belief with a 5-1 Europa League win over AEL Limassol and the Stade Vélodrome will noisily hope they can delay PSG's inevitable rise a little bit longer.
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