NIMES: Marseille’s 2-0 away win at Nimes on Friday saw them climb second top of Ligue 1 with a game in hand on all their closest rivals. Paris Saint-Germain are top on 25 points with Marseille a point behind and four clubs, Lille, Lyon, Monaco and Montpellier all on 23. After a defeat and a draw in their last two games PSG face the prospect of being knocked off top spot with a tough away clash at Montpellier while fellow front-runners Lille and Monaco face-off today.
After the weekend Marseille will have two games in hand on all of them, and a Champions League game with Man City coming up in midweek. “This group is starting to show some collective force,” Marseille’s coach Andre Villas-Boas. “We have got our confidence back. And we can have a go at Monaco and Rennes in our coming games,” he said. Argentina’s Dario Benedetto got OM’s opener Friday with a classic centre-forward’s control on the chest and a flying snap-shot as the former Boca Juniors forward produced a second goal from consecutive outings after a 15-match personal dry patch. Nimes were down to 10-men before Valere Germain wrapped up the precious three away points.
Neymar courts Messi
Meanwhile, Paris Saint-Germain this week averted a crisis by beating Manchester United to revive their Champions League campaign and the club’s followers might even be getting giddy at the possibility of seeing Lionel Messi in the French capital next season. Neymar scored twice in Manchester and then publicly stated his wish to team up again with his old Barcelona teammate next season, telling ESPN: “I want to play with him for sure, next year we have to do it.”
With Messi having spent the last close season trying to engineer a move away from Barcelona, who are suffering badly from the economic impact of the coronavirus, Neymar perhaps feels a reunion in Paris is more likely than his return to the Camp Nou. Meanwhile PSG are pondering how to deal with Neymar’s contract, and that of Kylian Mbappe, which both expire in 2022.
The Qatar-owned club are also feeling the effects of the pandemic, which has slashed ticket revenue in particular, with games in France being played behind closed doors. Qualifying for the Champions League last 16 would provide a financial boost. Thomas Tuchel’s team only require a draw at home to Istanbul Basaksehir next week to seal their progress. “I didn’t come to Paris to play in the Europa League,” Neymar told Brazil’s Esporte Interativo. However, Tuchel warned: “We have almost qualified, which means we have not qualified yet. That is the reality. Being almost pregnant does not mean you are pregnant.”
Last season’s Champions League runners-up are a work in progress and they have allowed the chasing domestic pack to catch up. A loss at Monaco and a draw with Bordeaux in their last two matches have left PSG just two points clear of Lille, Lyon, Monaco and Montpellier in Ligue 1. PSG go to Montpellier this weekend knowing a defeat would knock them off top spot. Montpellier, though, are without their top scorer Andy Delort after he tested positive for coronavirus for the second time in three months.
One to watch: Nice
The ambitious Cote d’Azur club reacted to suffering their fifth straight defeat against Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League on Thursday by sacking coach Patrick Vieira. The France 1998 World Cup-winning midfielder took the club to seventh and then fifth in the last two seasons but had been under pressure with Nice in the bottom half of Ligue 1, despite being expected to progress this season following considerable investment from the club’s British owners Ineos.
Appointed in 2018, Vieira had been hampered in recent weeks by the loss of veteran captain Dante to a serious injury. He has been replaced by his assistant, Adrian Ursea. The 53-year-old Romanian, who has spent much of his playing and coaching career in Switzerland, had been an assistant to previous Nice coach Lucien Favre and returned last year to work under Vieira. Ursea’s first game in charge will be away at struggling Reims today. – Agencies