Ligue 1 Recap: Northern Parisians excited about the future, Southern Marseillais see no hope in sight

Marseille’s Valentin Rongier, right, and Lens’ Facundo Medina go for the ball during the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Lens at the Veledrome stadium in Marseille, France, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

The fourth matchday of the season in France’s premier football division saw continued Parisian success under new Argentenian manager Mauricio Pochettino, who continued to implement his philosophy and tactics onto a team that is more than willing to accept what the Argentine has to offer. Growth and cohesion in the north of France juxtaposes the decline and antagonism of Olympique de Marseille in the south, who have now lost their last five outings in all competitions, with belief in manager Andre Villas-Boas growing thin by the day.  

Paris Saint-Germain pummeled Montpellier Herault SC 4-0 to sustain their tight grip on first in the league table. The opening twenty minutes of the half foreshadowed how difficult the task would be for the traveling Montpellier side, as, in the 17th minute, Parisian forward Kylian Mbappe would receive a gut-wrenching tackle just outside the box by goalkeeper Jonas Omlin. Although the referee originally gave Omlin a yellow card, a subsequent video assistant referee check would reverse this decision, with the yellow being swapped for a straight red card. As a result, Montpellier were left with 10 men in the early stages of the match. Paris smelt blood in the water, and preyed on the weakened “La Paillade” team.  

Winger Angel Di Maria would be the catalyst for the team’s first goal of the night, playing an exceptional through ball to Mbappe to leave him one-one-one with the goalkeeper; the French international simply chipped it over the outstretched arms of Dimitry Bertaud to give PSG the lead. Although Paris would not strike again until the second half, it would be worth the wait, as the league leaders scored three goals in the span of three minutes.  

Neymar Jr. made it 2-0 in the 60th minute thanks to Mbappe being able to find the Brazilian at the top of the box, who smashed it into the bottom corner. Then, one minute later, Neymar played a ball to right back Alessandro Florenzi in the final third, who found forward Mauro Icardi in the box, striking it into the top of the net. Finally, in the 63rd minute, Neymar once again was the catalyst in the build up; he put Icardi through on goal, with the Argentine waiting for the goalkeeper to commit before pulling it back for Mbappe, who simply passed it into an empty net.  

This result sees Paris climb to first in the league table with 45 points, while Montpellier fall to 11th with 28 points.  

Despite the exceptional performance, the post-match press conference had nothing to do with the match itself. Although Pochettino did praise the team and their effort, he was pressed by French media outlets on the statement made by Mbappe after the match, which addressed his future with the club: “I am currently considering extending my PSG contract. If I do so, it will be to stay in Paris for a long time,” he said.  

Pochettino responded with the following: “Well, I am not here to comment on what my players say. It’s clear that [Mbappe] has been positive in his declaration, but I’m not here to critique my players’ declarations. I’ve said it before, for us, he is an essential player, and hopefully he can stay at this club for many years.” 

Despite the positive nature of the declaration, the French superstar told French program “Telefoot” this past week that he is considering all his options: “I am thinking about it … I don’t want to sign a contract and say a year later that I want to leave,” he said. Clearly, he is still quite conflicted about which direction he wants to take his career. However, one thing is for sure: If Paris fails to reach an extension with Mbappe, he will be sold this summer in order to avoid losing him on a free transfer in 2021. Pochettino will have to find a way to keep the noise on the outside from infiltrating the dressing room in order to not lose concentration on the tasks at hand.  

Marseille’s Florian Thauvin, left, is challenged by Nimes’ Andres Cubas during the French League One soccer match between Marseille and Nimes at the Veledrome stadium in Marseille, France, Saturday, Jan.16, 2021. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

From one club in great form to another in disarray, Marseille could not have had a worse start to the 2021 season. They only won once this year and had lost their past three outings going into their match against AS Monaco at the Stade Louis II. However, it does not end there; star players Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin are apparently falling out and are not on speaking terms. Villas-Boas addressed the controversy in the pre-match press conference: “I don’t think they are going to spend their holidays together … Aside from that, this is not the first dressing room where people can’t look at each other in the eye.” In essence, Villas-Boas’ main point was that teams can still find success even if some players do not get along.  

The reality is that managers can do very little if certain players have disdain for one another. However, Villas-Boas’ has not helped an already tense dressing room with comments he’s made to the media where he’s thrown his own players under the bus. For example, he recently called out 21-year-old defender Leonardo Balerdi for an error he committed in their Champions League campaign: “We gave Balerdi a chance against [FC] Porto and he messed up his chance with a major error. He paid dearly for it …” As a result, it really does not come as a surprise that Villas-Boas’ failure to build up his players in front of the media has negatively affected their performance on the pitch.  

Now, the match began quite well for Marseille, who struck first in the 12th minute thanks to left midfielder Nemanja Radonjic, who sneaked the ball just under the goalkeeper to make it 1-0. Despite going into halftime with the lead, that momentum would come to a screeching halt two minutes into the second half. Monaco center back Guillermo Maripan was able to get on the end of a corner to tie it up at one for the team in red and white. A stalemate would commence that would not break until the 74th minute, which saw Monaco make it two, scoring once again off a corner; center midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni got his head on it to give “Les Monegasques” the lead.  

Monaco’s come from behind win catapults them to fourth with 39 points, while Marseille continue to fall in the table, as they now sit in sixth with 32 points. 

The final nail in the coffin came in stoppage time, with substitute Stevan Jovetic hitting an absolute rocket into the top left corner, solidifying the continued demise of Marseille in 2021. In particular, mental errors truly cost them the match. For one, conceding off two corners is inexcusable, and questions need to be asked of center backs Duje Caleta-Car and Alvaro Gonzalez who let their man get free far too easily. Also, goalkeeper Steve Mandanda’s indecision in the second goal cannot be forgotten, as that played a part in the ball reaching the back of the net.  

It does not take a genius to infer that something is not right in Villas-Boas’ camp. Specifically, the team seems lost on the pitch, and they frequently fall asleep in crucial situations. Ultimately, internal conflict amongst the players and Villa-Boas’ negative remarks to the media are clearly having a negative effect on output of the team. With this in mind, the best possible solution for Villas-Boas and Marseille is to part ways, as there is little chance that this relationship will be mended, and — from the performance on the pitch — it is highly unlikely that the Portuguese manager will be able to regain a sense of belief in the dressing room.  

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