Is winning La Classique Thomas Tuchel's last chance saloon?
Paris Saint Germain go into the weekend with another cracker of a fixture. They face in-form Olympic Marseille in Le Classique. PSG's shocking exit in the Champions League against Manchester United remains fresh in supporters' minds. With the Ligue 1 title a virtual certainty and cup matches not carrying the weight of ownership's ambitions, this is the final big game of the season, possibly Thomas Tuchel's last critical match as manager.
OM acquired Mario Balotelli from Nice in the winter window. The moody forward's mercury is rising at the Velodrome although, thankfully, this contest takes place at the Parc des Princes. Failure against a battered United leaves the manager walking on eggshells. He was brought in to take the squad to the next level, not oversee their regression.
Meanwhile, Marseille seeks a 2019/20 Champions League place. As UEFA's fifth wheel in terms of top leagues, the French top-flight receives just three Champions League berths rather than the four awarded to La Liga, the Premier League, Serie A and the Bundesliga. Rudi Garcia's side sit fourth, three points behind Lyon. With only nine matches remaining after the international break, the Phocaeans can't afford to cede further ground.
Motivating a team with nothing left to play for can be difficult for a manager, especially when his job is on the line and the opponent is as desperate as OM. PSG chairman, Nasser Al-Khelaifi spent €400 million on Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. He cannot countenance a manager who loses every big game. French media reports Tuchel's job remains safe but doubt will surely creep in if he drops another marquee matchup.
Other than Neymar, who remains injured despite his well-publicised Carnaval celebrations, Tuchel can at least select from a healthy squad. His biggest priority is establishing a winning mentality. Observers say the club possesses exceptional talent but lacks the competition in France to draw out their best. Maybe so, but they tend to struggle against the top sides in Ligue 1 as well as those on the continent. A recent defeat to Lyon was not a blip on the radar. Fragile best describes Tuchel's squad.
After the 2013 quarterfinal defeat to Barcelona, pre-La Remontada, David Beckham admitted the side lost its composure when Lionel Messi came on as a second-half substitute. Tuchel must prove he can harden the team's resolve. Belief is what carried Manchester United to victory against the Parisians in the Round of 16. It was the only advantage Ole Gunnar Solskjaer held over the German manager.
To prove they too believe, PSG must not only defeat Marseille, but do so emphatically. What louder message can be delivered than complete dominance over a team in ascendancy?
That won't be enough, however. Les Rouge-et-Blanc must kick on from there, trampling every club in its path between now and season's end. Juventus set the example. Also nearly 20 points above the nearest competition, the Old lady doesn't let up in pursuit of the Scudetto. Whether facing a bottom side, Napoli or the four clubs in Rome and Milan, the Bianconeri assert themselves, control the match and brook no opposition. If Thomas Tuchel hopes to keep his job, he must demonstrate similar consistency between now and June.