Following a thoroughly convincing 3-0 win over SL Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday, French champions Paris Saint-Germain will be full of confidence when they travel to face bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille on Sunday.
As well they should. A sublime opening 30-minute spell completely destroyed the Portuguese, who were powerless to combat an irresistible team performance from PSG.
The first half was arguably the best football that the side from the capital have played under coach Laurent Blanc, and as a result, Carlo Ancelotti’s time in charge is rapidly becoming a distant memory.
Should PSG win at the Stade Velodrome on Sunday, Le President will have eclipsed the Italian’s start to what turned out to be a title-winning season last year.
PSG have no new injury concerns ahead of the match, with Thiago Silva the only absentee with a thigh concern suffered against AS Monaco a fortnight ago.
Javier Pastore missed out against Benfica with a foot injury that has plagued him since the last international break; he could replace Jeremy Menez in the squad after the Frenchman’s temper tantrum against Benfica, per Canal + (h/t Goal.com).
With this in mind, how should we expect PSG to line up against Marseille this weekend?
Following such an accomplished performance in Europe on Wednesday, it is almost certain that Blanc will keep faith in the 4-3-3 formation that has served him well so far this season. It may have produced some unimaginative performances domestically, but on the continent it has yielded seven goals in two matches.
Le Classique promises to be different though and, given Marseille’s strength in the midfield, PSG will need their three-man unit of Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti to be at its best once again.
Winning that battle in the middle of the Velodrome pitch will prove crucial to controlling proceedings and essentially winning the match.
With the midfield trio intact, it is safe to assume that Blanc will go with the same front three as Benfica and not tuck one of Lucas Moura or Pastore behind Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Instead, Ezequiel Lavezzi should be preferred on the left of the attacking unit.
Eventually, playing El Matador and the Swede alongside each other in a more central role without a third man in support may be the best way for Blanc to use the pair together. However, the attacking triumvirate is the best option for now; such an important fixture is hardly the time for further experimentation.
The defence will also likely be the same one that lined up against Benfica, with Alex continuing alongside the impressive Marquinhos, who now has three goals from his last five matches.
Gregory van der Wiel has come on leaps and bounds since breaking into the first team against FC Nantes in Week 3; the right-back position is now his own. Despite the benefits of going with a player like Lucas Digne, who has the ability to get up and down the left flank at speed, Maxwell’s calm and consistent demeanour will be vital in this clash.
The defence will be more balanced, while the Brazilian international recently demonstrated how important his runs forward are, providing the assist for Ibrahimovic’s opener against Monaco two weeks ago.
While there will still be some temptation to alter the side in order to better accommodate Cavani, Blanc needs to ignore the temptation to do this in the wake of such an authoritative display against Benfica.
Possession is key in this match, particularly given how hostile the crowd will be, and the PSG coach will be encouraged by the way his side starved their Portuguese opponents of the ball on Wednesday.
If the loathed Parisians can weather the inevitable storm of vitriol and physicality thrown their way early on by the Marseille fans and players, then the defending champions should be able to do enough to win the match.
A draw would not be a disaster for Blanc, but following OM’s thumping at the hands of Borussia Dortmund in midweek, his side could take advantage of their demoralised hosts.
For PSG, the secret to winning Le Classique is to ride the momentum of recent results.
After taking their time to pick up the pace, PSG are starting to roll like a juggernaut towards a successful title defence. Winning matches has now become a habit for them, despite not always playing at their best, as they have made up the early ground lost to title rivals Monaco at the top of Ligue 1.
However, if Blanc opts to change his squad ahead of such an important match, and with an international break to follow immediately after, he is taking a big risk. Elie Baup’s home side will be up for the match, as they always are, and PSG have to be ready for the fight.
If they repeat their opening 30-minute showing from midweek, there will be no contest.
Predicted PSG starting XI vs. Marseille: (4-3-3)
Sirigu; Van der Wiel, Alex, Marquinhos, Maxwell; Motta, Matuidi, Verratti; Lavezzi, Cavani, Ibrahimovic (c).