Paris Saint-Germain had to come from behind to beat bitter rivals Olympique de Marseille 2-1 at the Stade Velodrome on Sunday. Moreover, they had to do it with 10 men after Thiago Motta saw red in the first half for conceding a penalty.
Andre Ayew converted the 34th-minute spot kick that was earned by Mathieu Valbuena in a combination of theatrics and a clumsy from Motta. But the opener lasted just 11 minutes as Brazilian international Maxwell headed in a perfect Gregory van der Wiel cross.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the only goal of the second half, also from the spot, but this time after a less contentious clash between Ayew and Marquinhos.
All of this amidst a calamitous showing from referee Clement Turpin.
Laurent Blanc’s impressive start to life as PSG coach continues as the defending champions secured three important points that take them back to the top of Ligue 1, level on points with AS Monaco.
Marseille’s season suffers another setback with the top two now pulling away after 2-1 defeats to both their loathed rivals and the title challengers from the Principality.
Here are six things we learned from Marseille vs. PSG.
In the end, the game was won by some astute tactical adjustments by PSG coach Laurent Blanc.
When Motta saw red for his foul on Valbuena, Le President did not wait to see what happened with the penalty. He reacted immediately and had faith in teenage French star Adrien Rabiot to come on to replace the Italian international.
Introducing Rabiot in the place of Ezequiel Lavezzi proved to be a masterstroke. Although Lavezzi is a threat, he is one with a short lifespan given his limited stamina.
Blanc reasoned instead that he should substitute a player he would inevitably have had to substitute anyway, in order to maintain the three-man midfield that he sees as vital to PSG’s style.
He was right. It was the dominance that the midfield afforded PSG, despite being down to 10 men, that turned the game in the champions’ favour.
Questions do have to be asked, though, about Marseille’s lack of desire.
When you go 1-0 up and you have a one-man advantage, you should not be letting your title rivals (and bitter enemies) back into the game as easily as Elie Baup’s side did.
After conceding the equaliser, OM looked as if they had accepted that they would not score again and did not push forward looking for another goal.
That is arguably down in part to the fact that the team boasts so many similar attacking players, but a large part is also down to mentality or a lack of it.
For the entire second, despite ultimately enjoying more of the ball than PSG, Marseille did nothing substantial with it.
It is not the first time such observations have been made either. Exactly the same happened with Monaco earlier this year; OM took the lead only to squander it and go on to lose.
Blaise Matuidi is key to PSG keeping control of the ball in Laurent Blanc’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.
The French international’s energy and commitment allowed the side from the capital to keep control of the match at the Stade Velodrome even after falling behind.
Blanc’s greatest achievement so far has been instilling a minimum acceptable level of performance that is high enough to beat most teams even when the showing is “average.”
Matuidi is crucial to that because he is so hard to knock off the ball and even more difficult to stop from dispossessing when not in control of it.
After falling behind and losing a man, Blanc’s introduction of Rabiot maintained the shape that Matuidi is now so familiar with.
That allowed PSG to control the game until Zlatan Ibrahimovic had to come off injured, diminishing Blanc’s options up top and forcing the team to concede ball dominance to Marseille almost by default.
PSG’s 2-1 victory demonstrated a gap in class. But after Marseille spent so heavily in the summer, why is that?
OM spent well on players like Giannelli Imbula, Florian Thauvin, Dimitri Payet and Saber Khalifa but did not strengthen defence, which remains their greatest weakness.
Individually, the likes of Nicolas Nkoulou, Lucas Mendes and Rod Fanni are good players, but together they are still not convincing.
Les Phoceens’ transfer dealings show a poorly thought-out strategy that only strengthened in one area. That area was not necessarily a priority.
With the defence overlooked because of last season’s impressive form, despite Fanni, Souleymane Diawara and Jeremy Morel not being renowned for their consistency, it lured OM into a false sense of security.
That misplaced faith is now coming back to haunt them.
Perhaps it is not a pressing issue for Laurent Blanc as the result was more important than solving this positive problem, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani’s relationship still needs work.
The performance can be disregarded because of the changing tactics during the match to overcome Motta’s red card, but that should not totally explain the lack of chemistry between the pair.
Ibrahimovic is accepting of his withdrawn role whether it is with 11 men and dropping deep to collect the ball while starting further forward, or playing as a support striker once down to 10.
Cavani is not as accepting and certainly not as versatile.
El Matador needs to learn to not think like a striker when playing out wide in order to make this partnership work.
While Blanc’s reaction to Motta’s red card was perfect and immediate, opposite number Elie Baup is a limited coach who gets the best out of minimal resources.
With more talent in the team this season, Baup’s limited tactical knowledge has been exposed, and it was painfully obvious at the Stade Velodrome on Sunday.
Marseille’s lack of ideas, failure to change shape and lack of desire comes from their coach’s specific skill set.
Adventure does not feature in it and because of that, attacking their opponents further when vulnerable is not something you will see from a Baup side.
No wins against PSG, Lyon or Monaco, now they are back in Le Championnat, for the 58-year-old since he took over last year.
As an added mention:
Marseille-PSG was an enthralling encounter, but it was almost not allowed to be.
Seven yellow cards and one red, a very harsh one at that, illustrated an inept performance from Clement Turpin to put it lightly.
His inability to let things flow and insistence on brandishing cards consistently almost ruined a keenly contested match.
French league authorities would be well advised to review the performance that was shocking on a number of levels, almost losing control of the game not to mention ruining the spectacle.