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Football | France

Beckham, Barton braced for French duel



Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille meet in the biggest fixture in the French footballing calendar this weekend, and the game at the Parc des Princes is set to have a distinct English flavour to it.

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, who is on loan at Marseille from Queens Park Rangers, 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.

"People have been talking to me about this game since I arrived here," he added.

"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.

"We are the outsiders, but that status suits us. Nobody expects us to win, while for Paris it would be a catastrophe if they failed to win it."

This is the first of two meetings of the teams in four days, with a French Cup last-16 showdown also set for the Parc des Princes on Wednesday.

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

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

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

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.

Beneath the battle for the title, the chase for European qualification is very tight indeed, with just five points separating Nice in fourth place from Lille in 10th.

Fixtures

Friday

Nice v Reims

Saturday

Rennes v Sochaux
Ajaccio v Lille
Evian v Montpellier
Nancy v Saint-Etienne
Troyes v Bastia
Valenciennes v Toulouse

Sunday

Lyon v Lorient
Bordeaux v Brest
Paris Saint-Germain v Marseille

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