Can Marseille Dethrone Les Parisiens?

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French Ligue’s 1 reputation of being a ‘low key’ league among the other European Leagues has been proved correct time and time again for the past decade or so. While the unfathomable subjugation of Olympique Lyon has already been pulverized, Paris Saint Germain are the latest entrant of vanquishing it after an year of Montepellier domination back in 2012. It all began in 2011 when  Qatar Sports Investments became the majority shareholder of PSG after buying a controlling 70% of the shares and veteran Carlo Ancelotti took over the reins from  Antoine Kombouaré. It was an year later that the PSG dominance began to jump onto the fore. Consecutive Ligue 1 titles and respectable finishes in the Champions League signaled the advent of a domination which would be tough to break down.

The start to the League season hasn’t been up to scratch for Laurent Blanc’s side. 5 draws in the opening 8 encounters have yielded just 14 points as the Parisiens cling on to the 4th spot.

Meanwhile, southwards in France, Marseille have started their season exceptionally well. A draw and a defeat early in the campaign provided them with an impetus to perform better and Marcelo Bielsa hasn’t been left disappointed with how his first season at the helm is shaping up.  Les Phocéens have enjoyed a host of easy outings, not taking into account their clash against St.Etienne, but there’s some amount of optimism surrounding the club and it’s new found objectives.

Although after emerging victorious at the Stade Velodrome on Sunday against St.Etienne, new manager Marcelo Bielsa presumably decided to keep both his feet on the ground. The 59 year old Argentine refused to look ahead  to a potential Ligue 1 title challenge despite of being 5 points clear of reigning Champions Paris Saint Germain. Of course, it’s too early to jump onto too many conclusion this early in the season but by the looks of it, this Ligue 1 season may pan out to be a more captivating one than the previous 10.

One can’t label Marseille as Ligue 1’s present ‘high flyers’ owing to the start they’ve had because the talent persisting in their armory. The likes of Dimitri Payet, Jeremy Morel and Andre Pierre Gignac have played a vital role in shaping the fortunes of Bielsa’s men. The link up between Gignac and Payet has come in handy while Jacques Romao and Jeremy Morel have chipped in with some decent performances. While, lack of enough competition in their league does aid them in their objectives but as is observed in most of Bielsa’s side, fatigue sets in after 6-7 decent months.

Injuries have had some effect on how PSG have fared so far. Thiago Silva’s exclusion owing to a long term injury will have some bearing on how well they play or defend in the coming months. Inconsistency prevails but it remains to be seen for how long it’d prevail. Thiago Silva’s injury reportedly improving but the exact return hasn’t been confirmed. European clashes are something they’re quite used to now but it always is a challenge to be pitted against sides like Barcelona and Ajax. They can be enough to take their minds off domestic ties and thus, reduce the quality of performances in the French Ligue. But, here’s where Marseille are in an advantageous position due to the absence of European inclusion.

Clashes against Guingamp, Nice, Evian, Rennes and Reims didn’t present much of a challenge but that win against St.Etienne proves something. Performance patterns of clubs under Bielsa do resemble each other in some ways. Much like his early days at Athletic Bilbao, Bielsa has won 5, drawing and losing 1 each. At Bilbao, Bielsa’s side had struggled in their first month. After that, everything fell into place and the players coped up with Bielsa’s philosphy. A draw against Barcelona, a win at Sevilla and a 3-0 hammering of Malaga acted as foundations for a thrilling win at Old Trafford which knocked English Champions Manchester United out of the Europa League. Bilbao made it to the finals of the Europa League but things sort of fell apart domestically. Players start to feel exhausted and overly exerted.

Marseille present a similar challenge for the Argentine gaffer.Although, Marseille are considered to be the most successful French club but PSG’s rise to prominence would make things tough for him to exert his influence in the League. Even in Marseille’s case, there are just a host of players who are exceeding expectations and winning the league would require something out of the ordinary. Just like Atletico Madrid’s campaign last season, Marseille players would’ve to play out of their skins to win the League 1 title. They’d have to work hard, although not as hard as Simeone’s Atleti side.

Fellow title aspirants such as Lille, Lyon and St.Etienne would find it too tough to even challenge for the title thus meaning that the French Ligue would be transformed into a two horsed race. Bielsa’s experienced coaching propels Marseille ahead of the three mentioned above and with no European competition, they have a chance. But PSG’s resolve would be next to impossible to break once they get rid of their injuries. It’s being reported that the pressure is piling up on Laurent Blanc but I presume, their worries are somewhat exaggerated. Marseille have got a tough set of fixtures after their recent clash at newly promoted Caen. It’d be very interesting to see how Bielsa approaches them and how he keeps his players fit during the months of February and March.

Ask me, the French League title is still titled towards PSG but Marseille are a sure shot at the 2nd spot and have a 30 percent chance of claiming their 10th League title.

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