PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain travels to play bitter rival Marseille on Sunday in one of the season's most eagerly awaited matches. The fixture is always intense and PSG's players must brace themselves for a vitriolic atmosphere at Stade Velodrome. PSG is level on points at the top of the league with Monaco, and Marseille is one point behind in third place. Monaco hosts Saint-Etienne. Here are five things to know about this weekend's games:
Although PSG is unbeaten this season, the first signs of tension are appearing. Winger Jeremy Menez stormed off to the dressing room before the end of the Wednesday's game against Benfica in the Champions League, which PSG won 3-0, when he found out he was not coming on as a substitute. Coach Laurent Blanc played down the incident, saying "I chose another option. That's how it goes." But Menez has proved a problematic character in the past — as Blanc knows only too well. Menez got a one-game ban for using inappropriate language toward his own goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris, when playing for France during last year's European Championship — when Blanc was the national team coach. Last season, former PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti publicly scolded Menez over his attitude. Blanc will want to clamp down on any unrest, and it will be interesting to see if Menez is included in Blanc's squad for the Marseille game. If not, it could well mean a January transfer.
PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi has urged his teammates to forget the Benfica match and brace themselves for a tough time at Stade Velodrome. PSG played some brilliant attacking football in the first half against Benfica, and faced little threat. That won't be the case on Sunday, when the fiery Marseille fans will try and turn the game into a battle."Sunday will be something different altogether," Matuidi said. "It's always a special match. We know that Marseille will give 110 percent, so we have to do the same." Last season's corresponding fixture finished 2-2, with PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marseille forward Andre-Pierre Gignac canceling each other out with two goals each in a spectacular first half.
Former Marseille player Joey Barton has backed goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to shine in the game. PSG has the most potent attacking force in the French league, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi forming a potent trio. But Barton, who played on loan at Marseille last season, thinks Mandanda is good enough to thwart them. "Mandanda is the best goalie I have played with," Barton said Wednesday in an interview with sports daily L'Equipe. "I've played alongside Peter Schmeichel, with David Seaman, but Mandanda is a modern goalie." Barton didn't want to leave Marseille, but his high wages proved a stumbling block and he returned to play for relegated Queens Park Rangers in the League Championship. He said earlier this week that he still hopes to return next season.
PSG has found an unexpected new goal scorer in 19-year-old center half Marquinhos. The Brazilian joined from Roma in the summer and was expected to play a backup role as he settled in at his new club. But injuries to countrymen Thiago Silva and Alex have given Marquinhos his chance, and he has seized it better than anyone expected. Marquinhos has scored three times in the past five games, including a goal in each of PSG's two Champions League games so far, and another poacher's finish in last Saturday's home win against Toulouse. "He's an opportunist, but above all he's still a very good defender," Matuidi said. "We have some very promising young players here. There's him, Marco (Verratti) and Adrien (Rabiot)."
Monaco midfielder Joao Moutinho scored his first goal of the season against Reims last week with a free kick. To him, it meant the same as creating a goal for a teammate. The 27-year-old Moutinho, who has three assists this season, has never scored more than five goals in a season during his career. "It's my style, I was always more of a passer than a goal scorer," he said. "I do like scoring goals because the joy is intense, but providing a good pass for a goal is also a source of pleasure and satisfaction." With Radamel Falcao and Emmanuel Riviere scoring 13 of Monaco's 14 goals so far, there should be plenty more assists to come.