by Steve Wyss
There is a big fixture in Ligue 1 this weekend: ‘Le Classique’, where Paris Saint-Germain welcome Olympique Marseille to the Parc de Princes in what could be a crucial title showdown.
Les Parisiens’ shock 3-2 defeat to Sochaux last Sunday has perhaps put the title race back on but the question is for how much longer?
There is a saying in football that titles are decided in the ‘big fixtures’ between the ‘big teams’ in a league. Now I’m not really at liberty to comment about this on a worldwide or even a European scale; this may well be a very true fact in a number of divisions.
However, what I do know is that this is unlikely to be the case in France’s Ligue 1.
PSG, with all their stars and their big reputation, are seen by many as an unbeatable force and a virtual shoo-in for the title this season. But the key to their success is certainly not facing the supposed ‘better teams’ in the division.
It is their incredible record against teams in the bottom half of the table which has enabled them to have the edge on their rivals, as the statistical tables below indicate.
PSG actually have a very mediocre record when facing the other sides currently within the top 10, averaging just 1.45 points per game against them.
Amazingly there are 4 other teams who average more points per game than them in this department. Lyon for example, who have the best record out of anyone when facing the top 10 teams, average 1.81 points per game, which is significantly higher than PSG.
Here are the records for all top 10 teams when facing fellow top 10 opponents:
As we can see, if the whole season depended on these fixtures between the better teams, PSG would be sitting somewhere about 5th in the table.
PSG analysis – Ligue 1’s flat-track bullies
The key to the success of Carlo Ancelotti’s men has been how they have so easily brushed aside the weaker sides in the division.
PSG have an absolutely stunning record when facing teams who are currently in the bottom half of the table. Prior to the defeat against Sochaux at the weekend, they had a 100% record against all sides from 11th or below with the exception of Ajaccio, who managed to pick up a couple of excellent draws against them.
It is not just simply the number of points accumulated which is so astounding, it’s how well PSG have genuinely smashed the weaker sides in Ligue 1.
In just 14 fixtures so far, they have scored a massive 34 times and conceded only 4 goals (3 of which came against Sochaux).
Compare that to someone like Marseille for example, who have only managed a miserable 14 goals in the exact same number of fixtures, and you can see why PSG have such an edge in Ligue 1.
Records for all top 10 teams when facing teams in the bottom half of the table.
At the moment, the only sides who are realistically capable of catching PSG are Lyon and Marseille. But if they are to win this crown then they are going to have to really up their games when facing the poorer sides.
Marseille especially, need to be scoring more goals and really dominating their opponents. It is all well picking up good results against the supposed better sides, but if you can’t obtain the bread and butter wins then you might as well just hand PSG the title right now.
So why are PSG so good at beating the weaker teams in Ligue 1?
The simple answer I believe is the fear factor. Poor sides are just so afraid of PSG that they have no belief when facing them.
Most outfits will just try and park the bus and shut up shop against them, but PSG are so good at being patient and eventually breaking sides like this down.
When teams face PSG, OM and OL, there will be a similar amount of motivation for opposition players, adrenaline levels will also be fairly similar. The difference is that teams believe they can get a positive result against OM and OL, they don’t so much when the daunting prospect of playing PSG comes upon them.
Maybe Sochaux’s result against PSG gives the likes of OM and OL some hope but if PSG keep up their good record against the bottom half of the table then I can’t see beyond them for the title.
There is already some talk about the upcoming ‘Classique’ being a potential title decider, but ultimately will its result really matter, even if Marseille win?
The actual answer is probably not because knowing OM they would undo their good work by losing to someone ridiculous like Troyes or Nancy.
Carlo Ancelotti knows that the destiny of the Ligue 1 title won’t be decided in the ‘crunch games’ and at the moment he is well in control of proceedings when dominating weaker outfits.
Steve Wyss is a French football expert and analyst covering France’s Ligue 1 and 2. Follow him on Twitter @meatmansoccer.
(photo credit: Arash Derambarsh via Flickr)