Paris Saint-Germain will have an outside chance of regaining their place at the top of the Ligue 1 table when they take on Marseille on Sunday.

Amid all the drama and action in Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, the Ligue 1 title race has gone under the radar a bit in the footballing media this season. The race to clinch the French league title is indeed evenly poised at the moment, with defending champions Paris Saint-Germain barely being able to keep up with league leaders Lille and second-placed Lyon.

This weekend’s round of fixtures in Ligue 1 could be a particularly important one, with PSG’s visit to Marseille on Sunday set to attract the spotlight. The hosts had made all the headlines when these two teams met in the reverse fixture as the French champions had slumped to a narrow 1-0 defeat.

A lot has changed since that game, though, with both clubs appointing new coaches to turn their fortunes around. For PSG’s Mauricio Pochettino, things have been rather smooth, with five victories in seven competitive matches. However, any mishap this weekend could mount the pressure on the Argentine, especially following a 3-2 defeat to FC Lorient at the end of last month.

PSG are currently third on the Ligue 1 table, three points behind league leaders Lille. They only have an outside chance of regaining the top spot as both Lille and Lyon face relatively weaker opponents this weekend.

As for Marseille, their first game under caretaker manager Nasser Larguet resulted in a 2-2 draw with FC Lens. And the 62-year-old will have a daunting task on his hands as his team faces PSG on Sunday. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at both the sides ahead of this enticing encounter in Ligue 1 this weekend.

Team News & Tactics

Marseille

Andre Villas-Boas, the newly announced football coach for Shanghai SIPG, attends a press conference in Shanghai on November 4, 2016. Former Chelsea and Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas was unveiled as the new coach of Shanghai SIPG on November 4, replacing Sven-Goran Eriksson who was shown the door after guiding the team to third in the Chinese Super League. / AFP / Johannes EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

Can Marseille cope with the departure of Andres Villas-Boas? (Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Marseille, in recent weeks, have been ravaged by internal problems and it has not been helped by poor performances on the pitch. On Sunday, it will be an opportunity for Nasser Larguet to inspire his team into producing an upset that could serve as a massive morale-booster heading into the second half of the campaign.

The former Morroco youth international coach primarily favours a 4-4-2 with double six, which is quite different from what previous coach Andres Villas-Boas had practised during his spell in charge of the club. Nevertheless, the presence of two strikers upfront should serve as an ideal opportunity for new signing Arkadiusz Milik to further enhance his reputation.

The Pole scored a goal in his debut against FC Lens and is hoping to continue on that note, alongside Valere Germain in the Marseille attack. These two should be assisted by the two wide attackers in Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin, who had starred in the reverse fixture. The Frenchman’s trickery, work-ethic and dynamism could once again be key this weekend, with Marseille likely to play on the counter.

Larguet’s 4-4-2 requires the presence of two physically astute midfielders providing security in the middle of the park. The signing of Oliver Ntcham caused quite a stir earlier this month, even leading to the departure of Villas-Boas. But it appears that the on-loan Celtic midfielder will not get the nod ahead of Alvaro Gonzalez and Boubacar Kamara.

Both these players share an excessively defence-oriented style of play, which bodes well for Marseille in their bid to neutralise the threat of PSG’s technically gifted midfielders. It could thus provide additional protection for the backline, where Loic Perrin may once again start ahead of on-loan Dortmund centre-back Leonardo Balerdi.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Mandanda; Lirola, Perrin, Caleta-Car, Sakai; Gonzalez, Kamara; Thauvin, Payet; Milik, Germain

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Paris Saint-Germain

Mauricio Pochettino is missing a host of players heading into this encounter including Marco Verratti, Ander Herrera, Keylor Navas and Juan Bernat. But on a positive note, Neymar is back in contention after serving his system. The Brazilian is a guaranteed starter as well, replacing Angel Di Maria on the flanks.

Poch could ring in a few other changes to his side, with Mauro Icardi, for one, pushing for a start in the number nine role alongside Kylian Mbappe, ahead of Moise Kean. The former Inter Milan forward will bring variety to the table, and his intelligence should complement the pacy Mbappe well.

Brazil's forward Neymar leaves his team's hotel in Kazan on July 7, 2018, a day after the five-time champions crashed out of the Russia 2018 World Cup football tournament after a 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Belgium. (Photo by Benjamin CREMEL / AFP) (Photo credit should read BENJAMIN CREMEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Neymar is back and available. (Photo by Benjamin Cremel/AFP/Getty Images)

PSG are largely expected to mirror Marseille 4-4-2 setup, but things could be difficult without the services of Verratti and Herrera in midfield. So, the onus could once again be on Rafinha and Leandro Paredes, who has found a more prominent role in the first-team since the arrival of his fellow countryman Pochettino at the helm.

Paredes’s robust nature could be key in dealing with the Marseille side that boasts the likes of Kamara and Gonzalez in the middle of the park. Rafinha, on the other hand, should operate in a more advanced position, providing the creativity in the final third with his passing and movements.

The depleted defensive unit of PSG, meanwhile, may see the return of a few key players who were rested against Nimes. Alessandro Florenzi and Layvin Kurzawa, in particular, are likely to re-occupy their full-back positions while Thilo Kehrer and Presnel Kimpembe will be at the heart of the PSG backline, although Marquinhos might just recover in time to feature this weekend as well.

Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Rico; Florenzi, Kehrer, Kimpembe, Kurzawa; Sarabia, Rafinha, Paredes, Neymar; Mbappe, Icardi

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Key Stats

  • This will be the 100th head to head encounter between Marseille and PSG in all competitions, with PSG winning 44 of these matches and OM 33. The club from the capital has won 18 games against Marseille in all competitions under the QSI era that began in the summer of 2011, only winning more matches against St. Etienne during this period.
  • After their win over PSG at the Parc des Princes last September, Marseille could beat PSG twice in the same Ligue 1 season for the first time since 2009/10.
  • Marseille have not won any of their last seven home matches against PSG in Ligue 1 – after having won five of their previous seven beforehand – their last such success dating back to November 2011.
  • Marseille have not won any of their last five matches in Ligue 1, their longest drought since January 2019. OM have not had a longer run without a win in the top-flight since between February-April 2016 (11).
  • PSG have won four of their last five Ligue 1 matches, after winning only three of their previous eight.

Player to Watch

Neymar

Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian forward Neymar looks on as he takes part in a training session in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, west of Paris, on August 17, 2019, on the eve of the French L1 football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Rennes. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Eyeing a return. (Photo by Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)

Neymar is most definitely the player to keep an eye on after missing the last game due to suspension. The Brazilian forward has had a stop-start campaign, with injuries once again in the picture. But, he is fully fit at the moment, and is in good form as well, having netted three goals in his last two league matches.

Neymar’s pace and trickery on the far side could cause real problems for the Marseille backline this weekend. In addition, the former Barcelona man’s almost telepathic combination play with Mbappe as well as the tendency to drift inside and test the goalkeeper will keep the opposition on their toes.

Hence, preventing Neymar from influencing this game should be Marseille’s top priority if they are to salvage anything from this crucial encounter this weekend.

Prediction

Marseille 0-3 Paris Saint-Germain

Marseille are lacking identity following the shock departure of Villas-Boas and it will take some time before they can get used to the new conditions under caretaker boss Nasser Larguet.

In contrast, PSG’s defensive record has significantly improved under Mauricio Pochettino, with the capital club also set to be boosted by the return of Neymar, making them the undisputed favourites heading into this game. The Hard Tackle predicts a 3-0 win for PSG.

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