It’s funny that we’re already past the midpoint of October. Funny that the French Ligue 1 has completed 10 full rounds of play and that Paris Saint-Germain is sitting at the top of the table even with one game (tonight’s Classique) in hand on the next-best two teams in France. Funny that Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar have combined for 21 goals and 14 assists in the domestic league alone.
And even then, PSG have made headlines throughout the week leading up to the Classique against OM because of off-field issues than what could happen on the Parc des Princes pitch come kick-off time on Sunday night.
Keeping it to pure football topics, PSG are entering matchday 11 leading the way in Ligue 1 with 26 points and still unbeaten this season having won eight games and drawn two. The concerning thing about one of those draws, though, is it is very recent (against Reims last weekend) while also being sandwiched between two more draws against Portuguese giants Benfica (1-1 away, then 1-1 at home) as part of the Champions League group stage.
The last time PSG strung three draws was at the end of last season with the league already decided from MD34 through MD36. Before that, you’d have to go back to May of 2021 to find PSG’s worst string of results (L-D-D).
Olympique Marseille, on the other hand, are coming off their first two wins in the UEFA Champions League this season (both against Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon). They are also coming off their first defeat in Ligue 1 this season in a much more worrying development for the southern side.
A win away at the Parc tonight would help OM overtake both Lens (3rd) and Lorient (2nd) in the table leaving the Olympians sitting second only behind Paris because of the overall goal difference, being clearly in favor of the Rouge et Bleu.
With Sergio Ramos suspended for the next two games and Presnel Kimpembe and Nuno Mendes still recovering from injuries, Christophe Galtier seems primed to use a 4-3-3 system for the first time since arriving in Paris this season. In the Classique against OM, of all clubs he and his team have faced to this day, and in the middle of the most tumultuous week PSG has lived in the recent past — which, this being Paris, is quite something.
The truth is, there have been a lot of voices calling for this change to happen since results started to become less convincing than those from August, and the team clearly lacks a fair amount of warm and talented bodies on defense to use as many as five on such a line (three center-backs along with two wing-backs).
This new formation would see, first and foremost, Mbappe deployed to his preferred hybrid position as a left-wing/false-striker with Neymar leading the way up front and Messi on a false-nine-to-the-right role.
On top of the tweaks to the forward line, L’Equipe reported yesterday that Galtier’s Saturday training included practicing a 4-3-3 formation featuring captain Marquinhos and Danilo in the middle of the defensive line, wing-backs Hakimi and Bernat on the sides, and a midfield trio comprised of Marco Verratti (on a deep-lying midfielder position), Vitinha and Spain international Fabian Ruiz.
Ruiz would make his fourth start in five Ligue 1 games this season if L’Equipe is right about PSG’s starting XI, having started three in four matches already.
This also implies a fully-available Leo Messi tonight, returning to the pitch after missing the last two games with a nagging calf injury.
“Messi trained normally this morning with the group,” said Galtier when asked about the Argentine status entering the Classique. Galtier calmed PSG fans confirming that “he is available for the match.”
On Marseille’s side, coach Igor Tudor is expected to use a 3-4-3 system similar to Galtier’s preferred formation with three center-backs along with two wing-backs with offensive mentalities to go with two midfielders and two forward men behind Alexis Sanchez, the lone OM striker.
More than anything, this game could serve to settle PSG’s nerves and calm the narratives down a bit.
With a month of play left before everybody packs their bags and flies to Qatar, PSG would do well to start putting some distance between themselves and their bigger rivals in the French league, let alone sealing their qualification for the Champions League knockout stages by defeating Maccabi Haifa when they meet next.
While there is a clear favorite on paper entering Sunday’s Classique, OM will see the equilibrium balanced a bit with all of the noise surrounding the Parisian club and partially deafening its members on the pitch.
A pitch that won’t be featuring OM fans at the Parc des Princes for the fourth year running after a ban was imposed in 2018. No Parisians will be allowed at the Stade Velodrome in the return game later this season either. A shame, indeed, but just one more extra storyline surrounding all things Paris Saint-Germain these days.