PSG close to title; Carlo Ancelotti's future a concern
Although Paris Saint-Germain can clinch its first league title since 1994 on Sunday, this is being largely overshadowed by speculation surrounding coach Carlo Ancelotti's future.
PSG leads Marseille by nine points with four rounds remaining and only a monumental collapse will prevent it from winning its third championship.
PSG hosts Valenciennes on Sunday and needs to better Marseille's result at home to Bastia on Saturday to clinch the title. If both teams win, PSG will have to wait another week, despite having a massively superior goal difference to Marseille.
"We're hoping to get it on Sunday, so we can claim the title in front of our own fans,'' PSG midfielder Javier Pastore said. "We want to be with our supporters to celebrate the year we've been through together.''
It has been a season of ups and downs for PSG, with several poor performances against weaker teams and one embarrassing home defeat against Rennes, which won despite having two players sent off. That has been somewhat balanced out by the excellent display against Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals, where PSG held Barca to two draws but was eliminated on away goals.
It should be a time for celebration. Instead, Ancelotti's future is dominating headlines.
With the Italian refusing to confirm whether he will stay, a guessing game has started as to his potential successor.
Ancelotti has yet to give an indication either way, saying only last Saturday that he would decide once the title has been won.
The uncertainty has sparked a media frenzy about who could replace him if he goes. Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, Real Madrid's Jose Mourino - in a dream package with Cristiano Ronaldo - and Malaga's Manuel Pellegrini are some of the names being mentioned.
Wenger, who has one year left on his Arsenal contract, appears to be the favored choice of PSG's Qatari owners, QSI, but the club has said nothing so far and Wenger has repeatedly said he intends to honor his contracts.
Marseille's results have picked up recently and it has not conceded a goal for seven straight games on the back of some excellent defensive performances, and the return to form of France No. 2 goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. Bastia has not won in three games and Marseille will be confident of a victory which will help cement its grip on second place and an automatic Champions League spot.
Marseille coach Elie Baup may be without top scorer Andre-Pierre Gignac, who hurt his ankle in the 1-0 win at Lorient last weekend, and midfielder Benoit Cheyrou is out with a thigh injury.
"Everyone will be looking out for Marseille's result on Saturday, of course,'' PSG defender Alex said. "This is the most important game of the season. All the players have been building up to it all week. Everyone is 100 percent ready because we will need to put in a top performance on Sunday. We know Valenciennes and we have to respect them.''
Expectation was high at the start of the season that PSG could do a domestic treble.
Given its huge spending spree - over ?250 million ($329 million) spent over the past two years on players - that was a realistic target and PSG fell short by going out in the quarterfinals of both Cup competitions. Since taking charge in January last year, Ancelotti has never taken PSG beyond the quarterfinals in any competition.
"We were disappointed to be knocked out of the Champions League and the Coupe de France,'' Alex said. "But in Europe we performed really well in both games against Barcelona and just didn't get the breaks.''
Those domestic Cup setbacks have not impacted on Ancelotti's standing and the players have made it clear this week that they want him to continue. One fan group, called PSG Community, even wrote an open letter on their website urging the 53-year-old Italian to stay.
Valenciennes seems to be the ideal opponent for PSG, as it is safe in 12th place and has relatively little to play for.
"We won't go to the Parc (des Princes) as victims,'' coach Daniel Sanchez said. "We're not favorites, but anything is possible.''
PSG will be without midfielders David Beckham - who turned 38 on Thursday - and Marco Verratti. Both were sent off in last Sunday's hard-fought 1-0 win at Evian and are suspended.
In Saturday's other matches, it is: Montpellier vs. Brest; Reims vs. Ajaccio; Sochaux vs. Lorient; Toulouse vs. Lille, and Troyes vs. Evian.
Rennes faces Nice and Nancy takes on third-place Lyon in Sunday's other games.