Balotelli sparking Marseille revival and gunning for PSG
Paris (AFP) –
Marseille's sudden recent revival has coincided with the arrival of Mario Balotelli, and they take on Paris Saint-Germain this weekend hoping for a long overdue victory against their old foes.
PSG have not lost any of their last 18 meetings with Marseille in all competitions since a 3-0 defeat at the Velodrome back in November 2011, the first game between the teams following the Qatari takeover in Paris.
The fixture has lost some of its lustre as a result, with Marseille only managing three draws in the 'Classique' in all that time.
Most recently, PSG won 2-0 in Marseille in October, a result which came at the start of a dreadful run of form for Rudi Garcia's team as they won just three times in 18 games in all competitions, a slump that saw them dumped out of both domestic cups and the Europa League.
But then Balotelli arrived, and OM quickly started winning again -- five wins and a draw in their last six games have seen Marseille move back to within three points of the top three in Ligue 1.
Finishing on the podium, and returning to the Champions League, is seen as essential for the southern giants -- still the only French side ever to have won the European Cup -- and their American owner Frank McCourt.
Since signing from Nice on a short-term deal at the end of January, Balotelli has scored five times in seven games, his last two goals being followed by memorable celebrations -- a group selfie immediately posted to Instagram, and then a game of rock-paper-scissors.
The former Manchester City striker's impact on his teammates has been considerable.
"The mentality, the mindset on the pitch are different now," midfielder Kevin Strootman, who ironically has lost his place in the side in recent weeks, told sports daily L'Equipe.
"If we want to keep fighting for a top-three place, and get into the Champions League, we have to show that we are capable of winning the big matches."
- What welcome for PSG? -
There could be a tense atmosphere at the Parc des Princes, with PSG facing their home support for the first time since the crushing disappointment of their Champions League exit at the hands of Manchester United.
Thomas Tuchel's side faced verbal abuse and taunts from angry fans when they returned to training last weekend, before winning 4-0 at struggling Dijon in a rearranged game on Tuesday.
The fall-out from their European debacle continues, and outcast midfielder Adrien Rabiot -- who has been sidelined after refusing to sign a new contract -- has now been suspended.
According to L'Equipe, Rabiot was punished for a nightclub visit in the wake of the United game, and for 'liking' a video posted on social media by former United player Patrice Evra celebrating the result in the stands at the Parc des Princes.
PSG remain untouchable in France -- they are 17 points clear of second-placed Lille at the top of the table with a game in hand and have won all 14 of their home fixtures.
Elsewhere, Lyon will look to bounce back from their Champions League exit at the hands of Barcelona as they host Montpellier on Sunday.
After being eliminated from the Europa League in the last 16 by Arsenal, Rennes go to Bordeaux, who will be playing their first match under new coach Paulo Sousa.
"We have to congratulate the players for their remarkable run," said Rennes coach Julien Stephan after a 3-0 defeat in London saw them go out 4-3 on aggregate.
"We don't have the experience or the power of Arsenal, but we have learnt a lot, even if the experience ended in a painful manner."
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Nice v Toulouse (1800), Lille v Monaco (1945)
Angers v Amiens, Caen v Saint-Etienne, Guingamp v Dijon, Nimes v Strasbourg (all 1900)
Lyon v Montpellier (1330), Reims v Nantes (1400), Bordeaux v Rennes (1600), Paris Saint-Germain v Marseille (2000)
? 2019 AFP