Turns out we had reached the climax of the latest Classique even before it started. That’s what most PSG —let alone OM — fans must have thought after the week that just came to an end with its grand finale taking place at the Parc des Princes.
It was a first half dominated by the Parisian followed by a lackluster second period that followed it. All things considered, it was a win-win for everybody from coach Christophe Galtier (changing formations for the first time this season and doing so ahead of the biggest game of the early season), to Kylian Mbappe (no more drama regarding his probable transfer request) by the way of Neymar (the cold-shouldered goalscorer) and even Nasser Al-Khelaifi (all flowers in the Twitterverse).
Ultimately, Paris Saint-Germain as a whole, all parties from top to bottom with their beloved fans included, got away with another victory, grabbed three more points and sit now three points clear of second-place Lorient (29 to 26 points) in Ligue 1 with 11 games in the books.
The night started, as expected, with a lineup announced by Galtier in which four defenders were joined by six other outfield players, making way for the never-used but asked-for 4-3-3 formation for the first time this season. It was perhaps more forced than natural a decision by Galtier considering the injuries and suspended players, but still, a choice needed to be made after the latest positive but disappointing results by PSG.
Messi returned to the starting lineup after taking it easy and missing the last two games — reasonable considering his stance about the upcoming World Cup. Mbappe joined the Argentine phenom atop the forward line with Neymar dropped to a neuf-et-demi, near-10 position in the middle and roaming the pitch as he pleased.
Everybody was happy and it showed in the game, with Paris putting on a supreme first half which was close to finishing 0-0 thanks only to OM’s goalie Pau Lopez keeping it from going bananas. Perhaps the Spanish Clasico or the English Super Sunday clash between Manchester City and Liverpool brought more flashes or hyped headlines.
Perhaps the true magic happened in the City of Lights just seconds from reaching the halftime break. Marco Verratti’s effort recovering the ball and nearly breaking his leg was all Paris needed to create a chance in which Vitinha found Mbappe on the left and getting into the box, only for the World Cup champ to find Neymar running to the space in front of the goal to make it 1-0 PSG from close to the penalty spot.
Neymar, seemingly disliked by Mbappe, is now the joint top scorer of Ligue 1 with nine goals thanks to an assist by Mbappe. Not bad for a couple in the middle of a broken relationship, is it?
The game featured bright moments from all Rouge et Bleu stars. Messi flicked balls out of thin air and hit the post with a freekick that OM defended with all 11 men inside the box and between the ball and their goal. Mbappe tried to deceive Pau Lopez, but the Spaniard had a night for the ages and stopped the French short of the score.
Even Marquinhos and third-man-in-the-middle Fabian Ruiz put in solid outings and helped PSG keep OM at bay for the full 90 minutes and change. So much so, that OM grew frustrated leading up to Samuel Gigot’s red-card tackle with 72 minutes on the clock.
On a clearly negative note, Danilo Pereira — already a makeshift defender — got injured joining Presnel Kimpembe and Sergio Ramos. On a positive note, it might help Galtier in maintaining the 4-3-3 system for the next few games. With Champions League qualification nearly sealed and the two games against Benfica, the toughest opponent in Group H, already played, there is no reason for a change back to the unconvincing 3-4-3 of games past.
Judging by the result and the bare-off-on-pitch-storylines, this game will be remembered as just another Classique — the 103rd — but more than that it could have marked a pivotal change in one of the most crucial seasons of Paris Saint-Germain under the QSI reign.
Games aren’t stopping any time soon. This week there will be a stoppage in European competitions but the gap will be filled by domestic midweek games in some countries — not France, though, allowing the Parisian some needed rest and recovery time.
Even then, PSG will only have five days until the ball gets rolling at the Stade Francois Coty in Ajaccio next Friday night, coincidentally the place at which OM was defeated for the first time this season before falling to PSG on Sunday. Ajaccio awaits while sitting in relegation places.
At the end of the day, everybody went home happy and, of course, Mbappe claimed to know nothing about any trade request. They call it the City of Lights for a reason.