Monday, April 22, 2024
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Luis Enrique’s team ethic shines as PSG win in Marseille, build towards Champions League showdown with Barca

‘God willing, you will never win it’ read a banner held aloft by Olympique de Marseille supporters at Stade Velodrome ahead of Le Classique on Sunday in reference to their UEFA Champions League title which is proving elusive to bitter rivals Paris Saint-Germain — so far. The fact that OM fans even went to the lengths to create such a prop for the game, though, is illustrative that there is reason for Les Phoceens to worry once more after years of relative certainty that their foes from the capital were going nowhere fast on the continental scene.

After this weekend’s 2-0 win in Marseille, though, things actually look like they could change in the next few months — or at least come closer than usual — with PSG clear at the Ligue 1 summit by 12 points ahead of the Coupe de France semifinals next week and the UCL quarterfinals the week after that. Vitinha and Goncalo Ramos’ second half goals extended the unbeaten run for Luis Enrique’s men to 25 games across all competitions which is impressive enough before you factor in Lucas Beraldo’s controversial first half dismissal, Kylian Mbappe going off at 1-0 for Ramos and OM being unbeaten over 90 minutes at Stade Velodrome all season before this.

“We know that it is always difficult coming here,” said Danilo Pereira postgame. “They had not lost at home before. We came here looking to win, though. Our first half was not good, but we showed what PSG stands for when we went down to 10 men. PSG is a team and one that fights together. We came here to win and we did just that which is very satisfying. We all came together and gave it everything that we could.”

This was a true collective victory for PSG and a result which speaks volumes about the changes which have gone on this campaign and how the French champions have become a better team under the Spanish tactician’s leadership to the point that they now do not necessarily rely on Mbappe. Vitinha’s goal was teed up by Ousmane Dembele while Marco Asensio and fellow substitute Ramos combined for the second to silence Stade Velodrome literally as the Portuguese striker pointed to the club crest of his jersey and cupped his hands to his ears.

Luis Enrique’s decision to withdraw Mbappe again was a topic of debate for all of 25 minutes before Ramos vindicated his boss’ decision to send him on by settling the game in PSG’s favor after OM had threatened a late equalizer. Vitinha and Ramos were not singlehandedly responsible for the Parisien victory as Gianluigi Donnarumma in particular played a big role in keeping the hosts at bay but both goals demonstrated the values of a team which finally plays for each other and not certain individuals.

We have seen that at times in the Champions League and certainly over the second half of a term which has not seen PSG suffer defeat in any competition since early November away at Milan in Europe where the Ligue 1 giants now find themselves in the quarterfinals. There is precisely zero doubt that Mbappe will still be vital across both legs against Barcelona and potentially beyond with Atletico Madrid or Borussia Dortmund awaiting in the semifinals but this PSG no longer lives or dies by the performances of its biggest names — notably the French superstar.

Once just largely empty rhetoric, the idea of “the star being the team” is actually starting to take hold for PSG at the perfect moment with Stade Rennais to come in the Coupe de France semis this midweek before the first leg against Barca at Parc des Princes next. When Mbappe’s brilliance does come to the fore — which it did not in Marseille just days after his hot reception while captaining France to international friendly victory over Chile — it truly makes a big difference like against Real Sociedad in the UCL round of 16.

This win and a string of other encouraging results and performances since the start of 2024 show that Paris can now cope with Mbappe sometimes not being at his brilliant individual best which not only bodes well for now across all fronts but also from the summer when he leaves. See off Rennes as well as Barca in the coming weeks and Luis Enrique’s new-look PSG team, in every sense of the word now, could really be primed to enjoy more success than many predicted at the start of this season.

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