Sunday sees the first meeting between Paris Saint-Germain and AS Monaco since either side were taken over and their affluent owners have splashed millions of Euros. The tension is already mounting.
The titanic tussle at the Parc des Princes will ensure that all eyes, domestic and abroad, will be on Ligue 1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani and Joao Moutinho will be going head to head for the first time.
However, there is much more at stake than simple bragging rights between two super-rich clubs come full-time in the French capital. The winner won’t exactly take it all this weekend, but the result will go a long way toward deciding where the power lies within France and possibly even the title come the end of the season.
A PSG victory would maintain the current equilibrium that sees the defending champions as arguably the strongest side in the country, despite Monaco’s impressive assault on the transfer market this summer. A victory for Les Monegasques though, and the landscape of French football will once again begin to shift.
Starting in 2011 when PSG were taken over by Qatar Sports Investments, French football was irreversibly altered. Although it was not clear at the time, it changed once again in December of that year when Dmitry Rybolovlev took over at Monaco.
Victory for Claudio Ranieri’s side on Sunday would open up a five-point gap between the two. Monaco is top with 13 points, while PSG is third with 11. That result would cause a seismic tremor in the current makeup of French football.
Monaco are ahead of schedule in their project that Rybolovlev hopes will end in domestic and European dominance according to L’Equipe (h/t ESPN FC).
While many expected Les Monegasques to challenge for the title given the calibre of their summer signings, few predicted that they would rocket up the table and lead Le Championnat with four wins and one draw after only five matches.
That is the state of play though: Monaco have looked relatively comfortable even if their performances so far have been flattered at times by their results. Ranieri has admitted as much himself (h/t Ligue1.com).
PSG have looked less composed, particularly in the opening two matches that they drew, but have improved massively over their last three outings. According to coach Laurent Blanc, the team are on an "upward curve" (h/t Ligue1.com).
For the principality outfit, it is a chance to make a massive statement of intent ahead of the remainder of the season. But for PSG, it is a game that they simply cannot afford to lose despite the fact that they are only two points behind Sunday’s opponents at present.
Part of that is perhaps because the side from the capital are complacent at times.
They were previously unchallenged in France, despite losing the 2012 title to a plucky Montpellier side, and serious competition was needed to continue their rapid development.
They now have that in Monaco.
Ranieri has emphasised this week how much more of a “team” Blanc has on his hands than he does, but the Italian’s claims are not entirely accurate. Under Carlo Ancelotti, and now Le President, the defending champions are still prone to overconfidence and suffering frustrating results at the most unexpected of times despite playing together for the past two season’s.
Ranieri’s men, on the other hand, don’t feel under pressure at all (h/t Ligue1.com). It is almost certain that Sunday is one game that PSG won’t be taking lightly on or off the pitch.
Monaco are currently benefiting greatly from following in their rivals’ footsteps.
Without the capital club having trodden the same path before them, bringing in the likes of Javier Pastore, then Ibrahimovic and Silva, ASM would arguably not have been able to sign the likes of Falcao, Moutinho and James Rodriguez straight after winning promotion from Ligue 2.
PSG’s rapid progress since 2011 demonstrates why they focused on luring ready-made stars and experienced players to the French capital, instead of part world-class talent, as Monaco have done. But the capital club were unable to enjoy the same benefits as Les Monegasques because Ranieri’s side do not have the same responsibility of needing to boost a flagging league that was losing star names before QSI arrived at PSG.
Former sporting director Leonardo had to turn the team into France’s best almost overnight, while Monaco are simply joining PSG at the top of the table now after the current champions earned Europe’s respect in the Champions League last season.
Both side have taken different approaches and both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. But are Monaco doing it better?
There is a sense that the “verve and youth” (h/t Ligue1.com) that Eric Abidal has championed to the French media in the buildup to the game is a better approach over the long term than PSG’s relatively instant impact signings. The likes of Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, Lucas Ocampos and Layvin Kurzawa have all earned rave reviews this season.
It must be remembered though that it would not have been possible for Monaco to take such an approach had PSG not already started attracting interest in Ligue 1 from outside of France, making it easier for others to attract star players.
Sunday’s clash gives PSG the chance to reassert their status as France’s top dogs.
Whatever the result, it looks like Ranieri’s side are here to stay for the rest of the season. Blanc may be enjoying life with PSG right now after some early teething problems, but that could all come crashing down with defeat at the weekend. The winner has a massive chance to strike an early blow in the title race and pick up some serious momentum ahead of the remainder of the campaign.