This weekend sees the second instalment of this season’s “Le Classique,” Paris Saint-Germain versus Olympique de Marseille, which is traditionally French football’s biggest clash of the domestic calendar.
Since the return of AS Monaco to Ligue 1 and thanks to their ability to match the French champions’ vast resources, “Le Cashique” or “El Cashico,” as it has been branded, has become a bigger draw. It is certainly the case with audiences outside of France.
But PSG-Marseille still matters, and this weekend is no exception.
For the first time in the history of the fixture, one of the two sides enters the clash with an 18-point cushion over the other.
League leaders PSG are romping ahead of fifth-placed OM at present, but with UEFA Champions League qualification on the line, there is a chance that Jose Anigo’s side could spring an upset in the French capital.
The Parisians’ attention is currently split between domestic and European matters, but nothing can diminish the appeal of the French “clasico” to both sides’ most ardent fans.
Over the years, despite not being what could be called a “traditional rivalry” geographically, PSG-Marseille has become the game that matters most.
Here is a run-down of everything you need to know about why “Le Classique” is still France’s biggest domestic clash.
Rightly or wrongly, it is the PSG and Marseille fans that make the match atmosphere so special and attract much of its worldwide attention.
Four years ago, then-goalkeeper for the capital club Gregory Coupet vowed to never take his children to watch the fixture after the hideous events that surrounded the 3-0 defeat to OM.
One PSG fan was left in a coma and eventually died after a nasty clash between the capital club's two main support groups—the Supras Auteuil and the Boulogne Boys—that have since been marginalised.
That ugly meeting sparked over 15 arrests, and until last season, no travelling fans had been admitted to the fixture. Since last term, opposing fans have now started to be slowly re-introduced to the spectacle.
Even if it is only 400 who are allowed to enter each team's respective stadiums at present, their contribution to the atmosphere is massive.
It is not the same as it was before with a full allocation of travelling support, but some representation of the opposing team in the away end is vital to creating a raucous atmosphere worthy of a clash between two of France’s biggest clubs.
The animosity between PSG and OM extends far outside of football.
Paris and Marseille are the two largest cities in France and the most influential. Together the pair are also the most successful football clubs in the country having won in excess of 40 domestic trophies combined.
Both sides are the only French teams to have won major European silverware, too; PSG the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1996 and OM the Champions League in 1993.
The duo dominated French football before Lyon disrupted their domestic supremacy in the early 2000s. But despite that spell, PSG and OM are the only French clubs, with the possible exception of Saint-Etienne thanks to their success in the 1970s, with a truly nationwide following.
Because of this, it is the most-watched pair of matches in the French calendar year and has a wider-reaching effect on French football fans as both sides are more widely followed than the likes of Monaco, whose clashes with PSG have taken on greater significance of late.
“Le Classique” is considered the battle between the Capital and the Provinces, but is also dubbed the North versus South derby.
The duo represent Paris, France's capital city, and Marseille, the biggest city in southern France and the nation's third-largest metropolitan area.
More recently, though, PSG represent the newfound wealth of foreign investment, while OM epitomise the widespread support that can only be garnered by accumulated success. Many French people resent Paris due to its political, economic and cultural dominance.
Consequently, a large part of the population dislikes the city's football team, PSG.
As the most widely supported club in the country, Marseille also attract a similar level of hatred and envy.
A non-traditional rivalry
The rivalry is neither the oldest nor the most traditional in Ligue 1, but it is without doubt the most fiercely contested on and off the pitch, dividing loyalties across the country.
Marseille have existed since 1899, while PSG only arrived in 1970. Their early meetings did not hint that the pair would become the fiercest of rivals either.
However, matches between the two clubs became important following the 1989 title decider at the Stade Velodrome after Franck Sauzee scored a last-minute winner that handed OM the title at the capital club’s expense.
Since then, PSG's backing from Canal+ suggested favouritism by Ligue 1's main distributor until the arrival of Al-Jazeera, now BeIN Sports, two years ago made them resented further for their then unrivalled affluence.
The pair's European success raised the stakes, and the 1994 bribery scandal involving Marseille and then-president Bernard Tapie took the animosity to new levels.
PSG: Re-writing history?
Marseille dominated the fixture throughout the majority of the '90s before PSG finally started to claw back some ground.
However, Les Phoceens remain dominant in the fixture with a 31-23 overall advantage over their rivals, but this latest instalment represents a chance for Laurent Blanc’s men to continue whittling down that advantage.
At home, PSG remain dominant and have beaten OM 16 times in the 35 games that they have played at Parc des Princes in all competitions. But there was a period between 2006 and 2010 that the Parisians failed to win in four consecutive games, losing three of them.
None other than the in-form Zlatan Ibrahimovic could also write “Le Classique” history on Sunday, as he is currently the joint-top scorer in the fixture’s history alongside capital club legend Pedro Miguel Pauleta.
Both players are on six goals, but the prolific Swede has racked up that amount in just four games, while it took the elegant yet clinical Portuguese 11 matches to do the same.
Will this be the weekend that Ibrahimovic writes his chapter in this illustrious French footballing encounter?
*All PSG-Marseille statistical information appears thanks to Ligue1.com.
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