Marseille's fierce rivalry with Paris Saint-Germain has lost some of its edge in recent years as the Qatar-owned club has dominated French soccer, but OM's resurgence under manager Igor Tudor has its passionate supporters dreaming of beating the capital club to the title.
PSG has been the French champion eight of the past 10 years and has lost just two of its last 27 meetings with Marseille -- whose last Ligue 1 crown came in 2010 under Didier Deschamps. Yet one of those defeats came earlier this month, when Marseille outfought and outclassed its old foe to win 2-1 in a French Cup match played in a frenzied atmosphere at the Velodrome. The stadium will be the scene of this Sunday's rematch, with 65,000 home fans hoping to see their team once again defeat Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and PSG's other stars.
All meetings between the clubs are huge occasions, but this is a potentially pivotal game in the fight for the title, with second-place Marseille knowing a win will leave them just two points adrift of a stuttering PSG at the top of the standings. While PSG has struggled in 2023, Marseille has won 12 and drawn one of 14 matches played since getting eliminated from the Champions League at the start of November.
"Of course, we are thinking about the title, but we are just taking things one game at a time," center-back Chancel Mbemba said after Marseille's 3-2 win at Toulouse last weekend.
Don't mock Tudor. It is all a far cry from the beginning of the season, when Igor Tudor was booed by the Velodrome when his name was read out ahead of Marseille's opening game with supporters unimpressed by the identity of the man chosen to replace the popular Jorge Sampaoli.
Yet the 44-year-old former Juventus and Croatia defender had done a fine job leading Verona to ninth place in Serie A last season and was headhunted by Pablo Longoria, the 37-year-old Spanish president of Marseille who runs the club on behalf of American owner Frank McCourt. It turns out that the fiery Tudor has the passion and authority needed to win over the volatile Marseille fanbase and the club is on course to achieve its objective of a return to the Champions League next season while being able to dream of something even more special.
OM -- which likes to remind PSG that it remains the only French club to have won Europe's elite club competition -- will nevertheless be handicapped by the absence of Mbemba due to suspension.
"This is a crucial and special match. The win in the Cup has given us confidence, but we need to repeat that level of performance," Tudor warned.
Player to watch: Alexis Sanchez
Now 34, Sanchez's decision to join Marseille after falling down the pecking order at Inter Milan has proven a successful one. The Chilean has rediscovered something like his best form, scoring 13 goals in all competitions this season including the opener from the penalty spot in the recent Cup win over PSG. Sanchez's never-say-die attitude has made him a firm favorite with the Marseille faithful. Sunday's game will see him renew acquaintances with Messi, whom he played with at Barcelona between 2011 and 2014, notably winning one La Liga title in 2013. Neymar, another of his old teammates at the Camp Nou, will miss the match with an ankle injury.
Saturday: Angers vs Lyon, Montpellier vs Lens
Sunday: Lorient vs Auxerre, Ajaccio vs Troyes, Clermont vs Strasbourg, Nantes vs Rennes, Reims vs Toulouse, Monaco vs Nice, Marseille vs Paris Saint-Germain
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