Are Andre-Pierre Gignac and Marseille the Most Serious Title Challengers to PSG?

Jonathan Johnson@@Jon_LeGossipFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2013

PARMA, ITALY - JULY 31:  Andre-Pierre Gignac of Olympique de Marseille in action during the pre-season friendly match between Parma FC and Olympique de Marseille at Stadio Ennio Tardini on July 31, 2013 in Parma, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Following their narrow 1-0 win at Valenciennes FC on Saturday, Olympique de Marseille moved into top spot in Ligue 1 with three wins from three matches.

Andre-Pierre Gignac scored his third goal in as many games with six minutes remaining at the Stade du Hainaut and that was enough to secure nine points from a possible nine.

Elie Baup’s side have given an early indication of their ambitions to pick up where they left off last season by racing into an early lead in Le Championnat. Given defending champions Paris Saint-Germain’s faltering start to the campaign and AS Monaco’s fast start showing signs of slowing down after a dour goalless draw with Toulouse, Marseille are the only predicted preseason title contenders to have maximum points.

That is thanks largely to Gignac who has been in peerless early form, netting once in each of Les Phoceens’ opening three games. The 27-year-old has recently been touted for a possible first recall to the French national team since 2010 by former coach Raymond Domenech thanks to his performances over the past 12 months.

Last season the chunky Frenchman netted 13 league goals, his first time in double figures since 2008-09’s unprecedented 24-goal haul with Toulouse FC, despite spending some considerable time on the side lines through injury. Had the former FC Lorient striker been fully fit all year round, he would arguably have scored 20 or more. 

As it was, Marseille were consistent enough and managed to grind out enough points with and without their star man. Their start to this season confirms that they have not lost that unerring ability to do just about enough each match to walk away with maximum points without producing a dazzling performance.

A fully-fit Gignac and the impressive adaptation of new arrivals Dimitri Payet, Giannelli Imbula and Benjamin Mendy to life at the Stade Velodrome has turned OM into more formidable opponents even at this early stage of this season.

Because of this impressive start, it is likely that we are looking at PSG’s most serious title contenders, despite Monaco’s new-found riches.

Les Monegasques undoubtedly have the quality to challenge for the title this season, but they don’t have the know-how or, on Friday’s evidence, the consistency to do so at present. That is not to rule Claudio Ranieri’s side out over the course of the term, but Marseille did very well last season with an unspectacular policy of winning the majority of their matches by one goal to nil.

They were not flashy, but they almost always managed to break their opponents down, and that is something we have only see Monaco do convincingly against Montpellier so far.

Against Bordeaux they lacked imagination and lost direction, and at home to Toulouse they again looked lost. Marseille’s blend of experience and talent gives Baup’s side the ideal platform to perform on without the pressure that PSG and Monaco are under on a weekly basis. 

Despite the capital club’s typically slow start to the season, they will almost certainly recover to challenge for their crown once again alongside Marseille. However, it will be their bitter rivals’ consistency that worries them more than Monaco’s impressive collection of stars.

Although they are sworn enemies, even the most fervent PSG fans will probably admit that their southern foes are the greater threat for now. 

Olympique Lyonnais are dark horses for the title, but they cannot be considered more than that with such a shallow squad right now. Remi Garde’s side do not boast the quality of a Gignac at present and are not capable of producing results with the same consistency. Despite a fast start to the season, expect to see them fall behind into the chasing pack in the coming weeks. 

Such is the quality of OM’s summer recruitment that the side have been able to intelligently replace some of the less than efficient elements from last season’s second-placed side, such as Joey Barton and Jeremy Morel, with younger and more vibrant players. The move has meant little change in the quality of results, but the games are being won in much more convincing fashion. 

Provided that he stays fit, Gignac will be key to Marseille’s potential title tilt. The longer that PSG continue to struggle and the more often Monaco find themselves frustrated, the more likely Baup’s side will be to fall back on their useful habit of grinding out 1-0 wins as they did in Valenciennes.

It may be early in the season, but it is clear that OM have turned a corner. Anybody who thought that Ligue 1 would just be a two horse race between last season’s champions PSG and newcomers Monaco was wrong.

Slow and steady wins the race, and the early form of the cumbersome Gignac and Marseille suggests that they are the tortoise to the hare-like Lucas Moura and PSG as well as James Rodriguez and Monaco.