Payet has a chance to shine in France's biggest rivalry
ABS-CBN Sports on Feb 24, 2017 11:20 AM
FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan.31, 2017 file photo, Marseille's forward Dimitri Payet celebrates at the end of the French Cup soccer match between Marseille and Lyon, at the Velodrome Stadium, in Marseille, southern France. Dimitri Payet left the glamor of the Premier League for this kind of match: 67,000 home fans screaming their support against their hated rival. The night of Sunday, Feb. 26 sees the French league’s biggest and bitterest rivalry as Marseille takes on visiting Paris Saint-Germain, the defending champion. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, file)
JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
PARIS (AP) — Dimitri Payet left the glamour of the English Premier League for this kind of match: 67,000 home fans screaming their support against their fiercest rival.
On Sunday, Payet and Marseille take on visiting Paris Saint-Germain in the French league's biggest rivalry.
The fans at Stade Velodrome are renowned for their fervor and rebelliousness, and they will be counting on Payet, the club's newly recruited star, to reverse a horror show of poor results against PSG.
Since the club's last victory in November 2011, Marseille has lost 11 and drawn two. The gulf in the results underlined how far PSG has moved ahead of Marseille — France's only European Cup winner — since PSG was taken over by Qatari investors QSI six years ago.
This is Payet's big chance to show he made the right decision, at the ripe age of 29, to force a move away from West Ham and quit the world's most popular domestic league.
His choice to return to Marseille, the club that sold him to the London team in the summer of 2015, over a more high-profile club in the Premier League or Spain surprised many.
He explained that he felt loved by the Marseille fans, having spent two seasons there before joining West Ham, and that his family felt much more settled in the south of France than in London. Additionally, Payet said after joining in late January, he was impressed by Marseille's ambitious new plans under its American owner Frank McCourt, the former owner of baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers.
Patrice Evra, a veteran left back with 81 caps for France, joined from Juventus, and Morgan Sanson, a promising midfielder, arrived from Montpellier.
The club is rebuilding after years of mediocrity, and McCourt pledged to spend 200 million euros (about $210 million) over the next four years to make Marseille competitive in France and in Europe, the way PSG is now.
This season, Marseille is out of title contention and sits in sixth place in Ligue 1, with a place in next season's Europa League a more realistic aim. Marseille, which is 17 points behind second-place PSG, is only four points behind fourth-place Lyon and still involved in the French Cup, hosting Monaco on Wednesday.
Payet has accounted for a sizeable chunk of McCourt's investment, costing nearly 30 million euros ($32 million), and the club has high hopes he can reproduce the dazzling form he showed for West Ham last season and, in spells, for France during last year's European Championship.
There is no better time to start than against PSG.
A 0-0 draw away to PSG in October stemmed a run of defeats — including three last season — but what Marseille needs is goals, and that is where Payet comes in.
Marseille will be missing its top scorer Bafetimbi Gomis because of a knee injury, and the club has no recognized center forward for Sunday.
Either winger Florian Thauvin or Clinton N'Jie will fill in as a makeshift center forward, with Payet likely drifting in from a wide left position to push up behind the striker in a playmaker role.
Payet has shown his best form for France — and previously for West Ham — when given more license to roam, where he put his quick feet, excellent passing skills, and accurate shooting to more effect.
Payet scored spectacular free kicks for club and country last season, and his only goal so far for Marseille was a free kick from 30 meters out against Guingamp.
Fans will be hoping for another Payet special this time.
111 AND COUNTING
League leader Monaco has thrilled with a heady brand of football that has produced 111 goals.
Monaco's 5-3 defeat at Manchester City in midweek had even the British media salivating about the quality of Monaco's attacking play.
The Principality club returns to league duty this weekend with a trip to mid-table Guingamp on Saturday.
Monaco leads second-place PSG by three points, but that is effectively four because Monaco's whopping goal difference of +52 is 20 better than PSG's.
So far, Monaco has netted 76 league goals in 26 games, and remains on course to surpass PSG's tally of 102 from last season.
At its current scoring rate, Monaco will score 111.