'Classique’ in footballing terms it was not, but Paris Saint-Germain’s clash with Marseille was a brilliantly chaotic game of football that climaxed with a 22-man brawl, five red cards and allegations of all sorts being fired from one club to the other.
There was also a goal - Florian Thauvin turning home a free-kick delivered by Dimitri Payet – but for the neutrals who were transfixed on the carnage at Parc des Princes, that was almost secondary.
OM’s 1-0 win, their first in 20 attempts against their fiercest rivals, will go down in infamy as coming about in one of the dirtiest matches to be played in Ligue 1 in recent years.
Aside from a dangerous Angel Di Maria lunge that saw him booked after 74 minutes, there was, by and large, an absence of dangerous challenges, and yet this was a game that always looked like it could boil over into the type of ruck that finally broke out deep into stoppage time, when it was evident that Marseille would squirrel away the three points, despite mustering just three shots and 34% of the ball.
Three weeks previous, PSG had come within a whisker of winning the Champions League. Now they find themselves 18th in Ligue 1 without a point or a goal, the first time since 1978-79 they have endured such a start.
Tensions behind the scenes are simmering between sporting director Leonardo and head coach Thomas Tuchel. Little wonder that things are becoming tetchy on the field.
Marseille coach Andre Villas-Boas had spoken before the match of wanting to expose PSG’s “moment of weakness” and the brilliant Portuguese tactician once again came up with a plan that successfully did so.
While dogged striker Dario Benedetto was sacrificed to the bench with Maxime Lopez coming into the forward three, the symbolic change was the preference of Alvaro Gonzalez to Leonardo Balerdi in the heart of the defence.
Alvaro was hurried back after a bout of Covid-19 due to his ‘grinta’. In layman’s terms, he was asked to stop Neymar no matter the cost.
Boubacar Kamara might have conducted himself with greater grace to emerge as the star player in a gritty war, but the young midfielder’s cool head was out of keeping with what was going on around him – and, perhaps, in terms of what Villas-Boas wanted the game to become.
Alvaro pressed, tugged, frustrated and kicked, epitomising the tenacity of his side as the Parisians were kept at an arm’s length and offered only a couple of infrequent sights of goal, which goalkeeper Steve Mandanda distinguished himself in shutting down.
It wasn’t pretty, it was sometimes underhand, but it was undeniably effective.
Indeed, Neymar accused the former Villarreal defender, who also appeared to goad Di Maria sufficiently for the Argentine to spit in his general direction, of wildly overstepping the mark and racially abusing him.
“VAR spotting my ‘attack’ is easy,” he said. “Now I want to see it pick up the image of the racist calling me ‘monkey motherf****r’. That's what I want to see.
“And then? I do a rainbow flick, you punish me .. For a slap, I get sent off … what about them? What then?”
VAR spotting my ‘attack’ is easy. Now I want to see it pick up the image of the racist calling me ‘monkey motherf****r’. That's what I want to see. And then? I do a rainbow flick, you punish me .. For a slap, I get sent off … what about them? What then?Neymar
Alvaro fired back via Twitter: “There’s no play for racism… Sometimes you have to learn to lose and take it on the field.”
A full investigation is bound to take place, yet the ramifications of Sunday’s defeat are set to ripple throughout PSG’s campaign.
Suddenly, Wednesday’s home fixture against Metz is one they must win, yet they will have to do so without Neymar, the ineligible Sergio Rico and Alessandro Florenzi, and possibly Kylian Mbappe, Marquinhos and Mauro Icardi, who are all seeking clearance to play after Covid-19, and with a fatigued and thin squad of players who can appear lost without their on-field leaders.
Meanwhile, neutrals should pencil in the weekend of February 7 into their diaries. That’s when Marseille and PSG will be next reunited in a league clash, and with no prospect of the bad blood between the clubs having diminished by then, it promises to be an encounter every bit as ill-tempered and highly charged as Sunday’s pandemonium in the Parc.