Marseille’s patchy defense somehow has to stop PSG’s attack
PARIS (AP) — Marseille coach Rudi Garcia must be waking up with cold sweats.
His side has one of the worst defenses in the French league.
On Sunday comes their bitter rival Paris Saint-Germain, which owns the best attack.
Only the bottom three sides - Strasbourg, Dijon, Metz - have leaked more goals, and the 15 conceded in nine games is the most Marseille has allowed at this stage since 1985.
Unsurprisingly, the nearly 500 million euros ($590 million) spent on forwards Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar have given PSG the most league goals with 29. Overall, PSG has 41 in 12 games and conceded only six.
Last season, Marseille was torn apart by PSG 5-1 at home. Whether PSG attacked from set-pieces, down the flanks, or through the middle, it was all too easy that night.
Although Marseille is in fourth place and unbeaten in four games, it is a somewhat illusory position because several teams are within one point of each other.
Things do not look any better at the back, either.
The center half pairing of Adil Rami and Rolando is painfully slow and cumbersome. Rami was directly involved in two of the three goals Marseille conceded in a 3-3 draw at Strasbourg last weekend.
With 33 caps for France, and valuable experience gained when playing for AC Milan and Sevilla, Rami was bought in the offseason to shore up the defense. He was seen as the reliable, no-nonsense defender needed to take charge and instill confidence once more.
But although a tough tackler and rugged man-marker, he is flat-footed and easy to turn. Rami was already shown up for his alarming lack of pace at last season’s European Championship. Now he is getting beaten in the air, too.
Rami and Rolando are not entirely to blame, however, for they get little protection.
Marseille fullbacks Hiroki Sakai and Jordan Amavi are great going forward, but leave too many gaps behind them. Marseille’s wide players, Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet, are highly skilled and offer a permanent threat in attack, but do little tracking back to cover their full backs.
This creates an imbalance and overworks the holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo, thus impacting on the center halves, who are exposed by their own lack of speed and mobility.
PSG is perfectly equipped to punish those flaws.
If Marseille tries the daring approach by pushing numbers forward, PSG can hit brutally hard on the counterattack through Mbappe’s blistering pace and the laser-beam passing of midfielder Marco Verratti.
If Marseille sits back and tries to contain PSG, then Neymar can drop deeper or drift wider and pick holes in the defense thanks to his sublime dribbling and unpredictable brilliance.
Either way, Cavani is there to finish things off.
Cavani scored a career-high 49 in all competitions last season and already has 12 in 11 games. Altogether, the Uruguay striker has 141 goals for PSG, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s club record of 156 goals should be within his sight by Christmas.
At 30 years old, Cavani is in his prime as a center forward.
Mbappe turns 19 on Dec. 20, and world soccer’s rising star is breaking more records.
This week he became the youngest player to reach eight goals in the Champions League. The previous record was held by former Real Madrid forward Raul, who was 20 years, 3 months when he got his eighth.
Between them, Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar — now known as the MCN — have contributed 31 of PSG’s 41 goals. They all scored on Wednesday in PSG’s 4-0 win away to Anderlecht in the Champions League, with Mbappe setting up Cavani’s goal for good measure.
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Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire