Pitchside

PSG win proves Classique rivals are worlds apart

Pitchside

It was very nearly one of the all-time great goals. A stunning 80-yard run at searing pace through the middle of the Marseille defence, skipping away from four opponents and lifting the ball over Steve Mandanda. Only a desperate lunge on the line by Rod Fanni prevented Lucas Moura from completing a remarkable solo effort and becoming an eternal hero in the eyes of Paris Saint-Germain fans.

It didn't go in but it did exemplify the difference in class between the two great rivals of French football as PSG proved too strong for OM in the second Classique of the season. It took them 50 minutes before Maxwell got the opening goal but the visitors never really looked like scoring and Edinson Cavani made sure of the win 11 minutes from time.

The first weekend in March will probably be remembered as the one in which Laurent Blanc's side finally put to bed any doubts as to the destination of the Ligue 1 championship trophy, as the capital club opened up an eight-point gap at the top of the table following second-placed Monaco's 2-0 defeat at Saint-Etienne 24 hours earlier.

In contrast, it was a bad weekend for Marseille. A recent five-match unbeaten run had revived their hopes of taking the third and final Champions League qualifying spot but this defeat, coupled with Lille's 3-2 win at Ajaccio, leaves OM six points adrift of the podium again.

The south-coast side will feel disappointed that they didn't cause PSG more problems at the Parc des Princes, especially given their approach to the game. Coach José Anigo had toyed with the idea of playing a five-man defence from the start but quickly dismissed such a possibility, insisting instead that his side would "try to be actors, not spectators."

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Anigo's team selection was bold, a 4-2-3-1 with Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet on the wings either side of Mathieu Valbuena. André-Pierre Gignac, scorer of 12 goals in his previous 13 matches, led the line while André Ayew played deeper in midfield, leaving Alaixys Romao as the only defensive-minded midfielder.

Sports daily L'Equipe wrote that Anigo's team was "on paper, attacking and seductive, balanced and ambitious." But it was a move that did not pay off. Marseille had just 39 per cent of the possession, with Blanc surprised that they did not press high up the pitch, given the number of offensive players at their disposal.

Thauvin was poor and Gignac did not get a look in, with a difficult evening for him on the pitch being followed by the news that his villa in the resort of Cassis had been broken into while his partner was there.

The home side never even had to play at their best to inflict a fifth consecutive defeat on Marseille in this fixture and a fourth straight win against OM at the Parc des Princes by a 2-0 margin. Anigo later said he was "disappointed but not ashamed", which summed up the fact that these two clubs are now worlds apart on the field.

Newspaper headlines in the build-up to the encounter wondered if the fixture, with all its symbolism of north against south, the capital against the neglected city on the Mediterranean, had lost much of its flavour. Not among the fans, perhaps, but certainly on the pitch. As former PSG player and coach Luis Fernandez says: "In the past, you couldn't predict the score, it was 50-50. Now, nine out of 10 people will say PSG are going to win."

Ayew had declared confidently in an interview with L'Equipe on Saturday that he and the majority of his teammates would not be out of place in the Paris side, but it is hard to agree with that assessment. Not least because the home team coped ably with £53 million record signing Cavani on the bench for 70 minutes.

The return of the Uruguayan after a month on the sidelines with a thigh injury is a timely boost for Blanc ahead of the challenges of the spring. He began and finished the move for the second goal that took him to 14 in his debut Ligue 1 season and is likely to be back in the starting line-up next weekend in Bastia.

That will be bad news for either Ezequiel Lavezzi or Lucas, who is still fighting to live up to the huge expectations that came with his £33m arrival from Sao Paulo in January last year, although moments of magic like that which lit up the 14th minute of this Classique can only help.

Andy Scott - @andpscott

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