x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Pressure on for French Ligue 1 sides after European failures

Both Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille have things to prove this weekend when they meet.

Paris-Saint Germain take on Marseille today in Ligue 1.
Paris-Saint Germain take on Marseille today in Ligue 1.

French football finds itself in a sombre mood on the weekend of its top derby, the most-charged, highest-impact collision on its calendar.

Paris Saint-Germain would admit it only in a whisper, but it might have benefited them in the long term had Marseille, who they host tomorrow, advanced further in the Champions League this season, or indeed had any of the Ligue 1 clubs involved in Europe performed a little better.

France's status in Uefa is suddenly slipping. Lille flopped badly in the Champions League; Lyon were knocked out by little Apoel Nicosia; Marseille have just been thrashed by Bayern Munich.

Should the pattern continue, there are implications for all the leading clubs, especially the duo, PSG and Marseille, who regard themselves as the alpha and beta of domestic football.

With their new spending power, thanks to the majority shareholding of a Qatari sovereign fund, PSG are looking beyond the domestic. But if Ligue 1's overall status falls, so could the number of clubs gaining access to the Champions League.

PSG should be in the European Cup next season. They are second in the table, and three qualify. But second is a place lower than they were when Carlo Ancelotti, the best remunerated coach in the history of Ligue 1, was asked to take over from Antoine Kombouare in January.

Kombaoure's grip on the position had weakened considerably when PSG lost 3-0 at Marseille in November.

Now, Ancelotti has begun to feel pressure over the last three games, which yielded two draws and a defeat. Frustration has infected the dressing room.

The Brazilian Nene, left on the bench in the loss against Nancy last weekend, lost his temper in front of his coach and teammates, declaring he never wanted to represent the club again. He later apologised.

His importance to the side, as a nimble attacking threat, may see him forgiven sufficiently to start at the Parc des Princes tomorrow night.

Marseille's difficulties appear more dire. This season was always going to be a challenge, with the new-found wealth of their great rivals in the capital casting a shadow over a club with limited spending power and barely concealed friction at management level, notably between the coach Didier Deschamps, who guided Marseille to the league title in 2010, and the sporting director Jose Anigo.

Marseille's run to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where they were easily eliminated by Bayern Munich, losing both legs 2-0 for a 4-0 aggregate defeat, contrasted vividly with their domestic form.

Since beating Inter Milan 1-0 in the Champions League on February 22, they have gone 10 games without a win, and were bundled out of the French Cup by the third-division side Quevilly.

"The Champions League is wonderful," Deschamps said after the 4-0 aggregate loss against Bayern, "but it saps a lot of energy."

The Champions League may be a wonderful thing, but Marseille are very unlikely to be returning there in 2012/13.

The gap between Marseille, ninth, and Montpellier, the surprise Ligue 1 leaders, and PSG, who trail Montpellier on goal difference, is 20 points.

The effect of PSG's new financial muscle, and the recruitment of players from heavyweight leagues - Javier Pastore and Thiago Motta from Serie A; Maxwell from Barcelona; Alex from Chelsea - has whetted appetites in the French capital.

It may well be that France will be launching a genuine super club, PSG, into the Champions League over the coming years.

It is Ancelotti's job to at least put them there next August as domestic champions.

And it is the urgent task of Ligue 1 to make sure that it raises standards generally on the European stage, or it will lose its place, probably to Portugal, in the top five of the Uefa rankings.


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