Paris Saint-Germain’s players react after scoring during the French Ligue 1 football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Strasbourg at The Parc des Princes in Paris on February 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT
Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery says his side will be using two upcoming matches against arch-rivals Marseille at the Parc des Princes as preparation for the Champions League clash with Real Madrid.
PSG’s games with Marseille are usually the biggest fixtures on the French footballing calendar, but Spaniard Emery insists that Sunday’s Ligue 1 match and next week’s French Cup quarter-final come second to trying to keep alive their European dream.
The big-spending capital club were beaten 3-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie last week as Cristiano Ronaldo scored a double for reigning champions Real.
“These are two ‘clasicos’ (against Marseille)…which will serve to prepare us for Real,” Emery wrote this week on his personal website.
PSG, who were held to a 2-2 draw at Marseille earlier this season, are 12 points clear at the top of the French table and set to reclaim the title they lost to Monaco last season.
It would be a fifth league crown in six seasons for the Parisians but, for all the money poured into the club by their Qatari owners, PSG have not been able to translate domestic domination into European success, with the 6-1 humiliation at Barcelona a year ago the low point.
Emery attracted a lot of the blame for that performance and for the loss to Zinedine Zidane’s Real at the Santiago Bernabeu, where he removed striker Edinson Cavani with the score still level.
But the former Sevilla coach argues that PSG are much better at home, where they had beaten Barca 4-0 in the first leg last season.
“It is above all at the Parc that we remain a powerful force,” he added.
“Marseille and Real Madrid know they have to come to Paris, but they don’t really know what is facing them. Together we will do it.”
Cavani scored twice in a 5-2 romp against Strasbourg last weekend, the second set up by world-record signing Neymar.
But Cavani’s on-field gestures make it clear he thinks the Brazilian should pass to him more often and their strained relationship is under the microscope.
For Marseille, there might never be a better time to go to the Parc des Princes as they look to end a 15-match winless streak against PSG dating back to November 2011.
They have not finished in the top three since 2013 but are regaining some consistency and punch under Rudi Garcia and enter the weekend one point behind Monaco in the race to finish second.
The warm-up to the main event is the latest round in another of France’s bitterest rivalries as Saint-Etienne travel the 70 kilometres to Lyon.
Whatever happens on the field, expect fireworks.
Lyon’s thumping 5-0 victory in the return fixture in November saw captain Nabil Fekir provoke anger from the Saint-Etienne fans by holding up his shirt in front of them, culminating in a yellow card and a one-match suspension.
Both sets of fans have been persistently guilty of setting off flares at games and the resentment between the clubs runs deep.
Bruno Genesio’s Lyon have gone four league matches without a win to slip six points adrift of Marseille in the race for a Champions League spot.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Strasbourg v Montpellier (1945)
Toulouse v Monaco (1600), Guingamp v Metz, Lille v Angers, Nantes v Amiens, Rennes v Troyes, Dijon v Caen (all 1900)
Bordeaux v Nice (1400), Lyon v Saint-Etienne (1700), Paris Saint-Germain v Marseille (2000)