When Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) won their second successive Ligue 1 crown last season, most football pundits expected the team to dominate French football for the foreseeable future and most certainly claim another title in May 2015. Despite financial restrictions imposed by the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules, PSG still possess the most formidable squad in the country but a third championship is being threatened by a Marseille team which has been revived by new head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Last weekend Marseille completed their seventh consecutive league victory by virtue of added time winner scored by Andre-Pierre Gignac in a 2-1 victory at Caen. Meanwhile, an added time equaliser by Monaco prevented PSG from claiming all three points at the Parc des Princes in the 1-1draw which ensured the unbeaten Paris team had drawn six of their first nine Ligue 1 contests.
Marseille now lead the league table by five points from Bordeaux with PSG a further two points adrift but is the style and performances of the southern French team which is raising the expectations of supporters at the recently renovated Stade Velodrome.
After finishing sixth in Ligue 1 last season amid several below par displays, Marseilles officials moved to appoint Bielsa as the new head coach based on his solid reputation earned at Atletico Bilbao. Whilst at the Spanish Basque club, Bielsa had instilled an ethic of intensive attacking football which also involved pressing opponents in their own half of the field.
Bilbao performances against Manchester United in 2012, when they won both legs of a Europa League tie, were widely acclaimed and they were eventually beaten by compatriots Atletico Madrid in the final. The former Argentinian and Chile boss eventually left Bilbao in June 2013 after the club failed to renew his contract.
However, Bilbao’s loss may be Marseille’s gain although initial impressions were rather mixed. A 3-3 draw at Bastia was followed by a 1-0 loss at home to Montpellier with supporters questioning the appointment. Since then the team have won all seven league matches and have no European distractions.
While the current success has been based on Bielsa’s high pressure philosophy, it is worth noting the form of their leading striker Gignac who has already netted eight league goals and is being strongly linked to the top Premier League clubs. Gignac has always been recognised a traditional centre forward type of player with abundant strength on the ground but the arrival of Bielsa at the Stade Velodrome appears to have added an extra edge to his proven talent.
Should Gignac maintain his goals per game ratio, then Marseille must be viewed as serious candidates for lifting the Ligue 1crown and a boost for French football. PSG will have other ideas but Le Classique encounter between the two teams in Paris on November 8th should be a date definitely worth inserting into the diary.