The most passionate and anticipated fixture of the French Ligue 1 season so far has an extra element of suspense and Paris Saint-Germain, the champions, have been cultivating it.
Images of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in training, moving comfortably, were posted on the club's website on Thursday, an indication that Ligue 1's larger-than-life superstar may be ready to make his long-awaited return from a heel injury on Sunday.
Out of action since the third week of September, Ibrahimovic relishes this sort of date.
During the course of his career, he has made the difference in a Spanish clasico, Barcelona versus Real Madrid, and played in Milan derbies for both the red and blue clubs of that city. The Swede also has been in France long enough to know what PSG versus Marseille represents: the capital versus the major provincial city, a contest between metropolitan wealth and the earthier values of the south that have never been so exaggerated.
PSG operate with a budget four times larger than Marseille’s, despite the latter’s legitimate claim to be France’s best-supported club.
What Ibrahimovic has not experienced since he made Paris his home, in the summer of 2012, is a Marseille who are challengers for PSG’s title.
Two points separate the clubs at the top of the table, with Marseille leading.
Under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa, the eccentric Argentine manager, Marseille have won nine of their 12 matches this season, and the panache with which they play has made them more watchable than Laurent Blanc's collection of millionaires.
PSG are unbeaten in Ligue 1 but, without Ibrahimovic, they can appear rather functional, even banal. That was never on their ambitious owners’ manifesto. And they will expect to see a show for the 90 minutes of France’s noisiest sporting collision.
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