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Beckham and Barton set for Ligue 1 clash

Former England captain David Beckham is set for his debut for Paris Saint-Germain this weekend in a showdown with fellow Englishman Joey Barton's Marseille at the Parc des Princes.

This latest edition of what has come to be known as 'Le Classique' is one of the most important in years, with PSG coming into the weekend three points clear of Lyon at the top of Ligue 1, and five points above Marseille in third.

The outcome of Sunday's encounter could go a long way to deciding who is crowned champions at the end of the season, but the possibility of seeing David Beckham finally make his PSG debut in the game adds an even greater element of intrigue.

If he does play, there is the prospect of seeing the 37-year-old Beckham go directly up against his fellow countryman, Marseille's Joey Barton.

They are two men who represent the polar opposites of English footballing culture.

Renowned 'bad-boy' Barton has raised doubts as to how much of an impact Beckham can make at PSG, and expressed confidence that the visitors can still have a major say in the title race.

"He is a super ambassador for English football, but he is maybe not the athlete he was five years ago because, without wanting to disrespect the MLS (where Beckham last played for the Los Angeles Galaxy), it is not the same level," Barton told sports daily L'Equipe.

"We are just behind them in the table, and we are getting to the end of February. It is now that championships are won and lost," he added.

"We are the outsiders, but that status suits us."

As league leaders, and the financial powerhouse of French football, PSG come into this game as favourites.

However, there is extra pressure on them to get a result after their shock 3-2 defeat away at struggling Sochaux last weekend.

While Beckham has trained normally with his new teammates this week, question marks surround the fitness of Lucas Moura and Jeremy Menez, but Javier Pastore seems certain to start the game.

"The level of motivation is always huge for this type of match," said the Argentine, whose first impressions of Beckham have been good.

"He is a great player and a great person. I thought he would be a little bit detached from the rest of us, but he is very humble."

"To be able to share these moments with him in the changing room and on the pitch is a very positive thing."

Elie Baup's Marseille side have not been convincing since the winter break, and needed an injury-time strike from Rod Fanni to beat Valenciennes 1-0 last weekend.

The problems are building up for them too, with Jordan Ayew ruled out due to suspension and Morgan Amalfitano and Benoit Cheyrou both injured.

Lyon bounced back from successive league defeats to crush Bordeaux 4-0 away last weekend, but they face a tough test at home to Lorient less than 72 hours after their last-gasp elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Tottenham.

Lorient could pose a serious threat to Remi Garde's side, especially as they have had a full week to prepare for the game.

Jean-Michel Aulas, the outspoken Lyon president, this week complained that his team are being treated unfairly in being made to play on Thursday evening and then again on Sunday afternoon.

"There is a desire to make things difficult for Lyon against Lorient, who have not played during the week," he insisted.

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FOOTBALL

OPINION: Mbappé’s title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project

After being the star of France's 2018 World Cup triumph, Kylian Mbappé has been the standout player for Paris Saint-Germain in a Ligue 1 title-winning campaign that has been slightly marred by the manner in which they limped over the line.

OPINION: Mbappé's title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project
Photos AFP

PSG finally wrapped up the title on Sunday after second-placed Lille failed to beat Toulouse, having not won any of their previous three games when the opportunity to confirm a sixth French crown in seven seasons was there.

The Qatari-owned club can still make it a domestic double, with the French Cup final to come against Rennes next weekend, yet this will not be remembered as a vintage year.

While Neymar once again went missing due to injury at the crucial point, Edinson Cavani has struggled with fitness too, and coach Thomas Tuchel has regularly lashed out at the lack of depth in his squad.

The 5-1 capitulation at Lille a week ago was the worst league result for PSG since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, and the first time they had let in five in a league game since 2000.

A record-breaking 14-match winning run with which they started the season now seems like a long time ago, the latest Champions League failure clouding Tuchel's first campaign in charge.

Mbappé, at least, has been a constant, revelling in his status as a World Cup winner and hardly ever being rested. He only turned 20 in December, but has now won three Ligue 1 titles in a row.

Mbappé has 36 goals in 40 games this season, with 30 in the league. And, frighteningly, his team-mate Daniel Alves told RMC recently that “he doesn't realise how good he is, he can go much further”.

He is also not used to losing, and may have upset some of his teammates with his assessment of last week's defeat at Lille. “We played like beginners,” he said.

Hollow ring

To be fair, they have usually been exceptional domestically. However, the problem is that as long as they keep failing in the Champions League, domestic success for a club backed by a Gulf state will continue to ring hollow.

The title has effectively been in the bag for some time, but their season has been winding down ever since their exit against Manchester United in the last 16.

That, combined with being knocked out in the League Cup quarter-finals, means Tuchel in his first season has actually done worse than Unai Emery, his unloved predecessor.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel has actually done worse than his predecessor, Unai Emery
However, according to sports daily L'Equipe, Tuchel has agreed to extend his contract to 2021. Thoughts have already turned to the future, with new signings needed at the Parc des Princes.

The costly Neymar experiment cannot be said to have succeeded until he stays fit for the games that matter, and there will always be speculation about his future.

“We have a contract, we're not even halfway through that contract,” Neymar's father pointed out to RMC Sport.

Time for a clear-out? 

Mbappé is the one man they really cannot afford to lose, but is it time for a clear-out elsewhere?

Some of the excitement of the early part of the decade has gone, replaced with a staleness. The days of Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti are maybe ending.

Youri Djorkaeff, a World Cup winner for France and a PSG star in the 1990s, offers a frank assessment, suggesting real change is needed higher up.

“If you're not great in every compartment, from the bus driver to the girls who clean the shirts, you will go nowhere,” he told Ligue 1 Podcast, 'Le Beau Jeu'.

“Paris Saint-Germain, after many years without success, have to rebuild everything, restart from scratch, because the foundations are not good. You cannot expect to one day win the Champions League without these foundations.”

The Qatar project needs a breath of fresh air, and all eyes will be on president Nasser al-Khelaifi and sporting director Antero Henrique.

UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules remain a problem, though, with PSG said to have a hole of around 100 million euros and the need to present a balanced budget by the end of June. The next few months will be interesting.

By Andy Scott/AFP

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