There have been so many high-scoring meetings between Lyon and Marseille in recent seasons that perhaps a goalless draw was overdue, but for a game involving two clubs with everything to play for at the top of the table Sunday’s encounter at Stade Gerland was bitterly disappointing.
On Sunday, L'Equipe asked whether this latest clash of the two Olympiques would be "as good as usual". From Lyon's 4-1 away win in November to the remarkable 5-5 draw in Lyon in 2009, the last eight league meetings between the clubs had produced an average of more than four goals per game.
Twenty-four hours later, the front page headline of the same newspaper read: 'Paris say thank you'. Despite a less than convincing 2-1 win against Nancy on Saturday, PSG were the big winners of the weekend in Ligue 1. The goalless draw between their nearest rivals leaves Lyon four points behind the leaders, with Marseille three points further back in third. L'OM now also have Saint-Etienne, Nice and Lille breathing down their necks.
Given recent results, it is too soon to say that PSG will walk away with the title. They still have to go to Lyon, and must also travel to in-form Saint-Etienne next weekend. But, faced with the chance of increasing the pressure on PSG and delivering a serious blow to all their opponents in the event of a victory, Lyon and Marseille were instead happy to cancel each other out.
There were just four shots on target all evening, three for Lyon and one for Marseille.
Joey Barton's performance summed up the match. The Englishman was not great to watch, but his work-rate was admirable, and he snapped at opposition ankles all evening long.
Marseille coach Elie Baup described the game as "a real battle" while his Lyon counterpart Rémi Garde said he had "no regrets" and added that "against your direct rivals, it is important not to lose".
For critics of the French game, such a phrase goes to the heart of the matter. The fear of losing is usually greater than the desire to win. Rather than go for it, the two clubs were prepared to settle for a stalemate.
Barton gives the impression that he is enjoying his French experience both on and off the pitch, but he recently hit out at the difference in attitude between the English game and the generally conservative and cautious Ligue 1.
"As a midfielder, in England, coaches ask you to go and score a goal,” he said. “Here, it's all about making sure you don't concede. It's like a different sport."
Worse was to come from long-serving Lorient coach Christian Gourcuff, who has become renowned for producing attractive footballing sides during his time in charge of the modest Brittany club. To many, Gourcuff, whose son Yoann is a wonderfully-talented if injury-prone playmaker, embodies much of what is good about French football.
And yet, in a recent interview with France Football, Gourcuff hit out at the fare on offer in Ligue 1, saying: "It is a difficult league, but not particularly spectacular. When I retire, I won't watch it anymore. Professionally, I am obliged to, but tomorrow, no thanks.”
This season has seen an average of 2.55 goals scored per game. That is up slightly from 2.52 last season but means that Ligue 1 continues to lag behind the other four major European championships. There have been 2.85 goals per game in the Premier League and Bundesliga this season, 2.81 in Spain and 2.68 in Italy.
Despite Gourcuff’s remarks, the sheer volume of players who leave France and enjoy success abroad, especially in England and Spain, serves as proof that there is plenty of talent on offer in Ligue 1. And despite the goalless draw in Lyon, there were still 28 goals scored in the other nine matches over the course of the weekend.
But Gourcuff’s criticisms are valid. He feels too many of his fellow coaches are overly negative. Some attitudes are difficult to change, and the French game will possibly always remain less open than its European counterparts. Football matches do not have to be wide open, chaotic affairs to be enjoyable, but too many Ligue 1 sides seem unprepared to take a risk. Until that changes, France will continue to lag behind Europe’s other leading leagues. Not just in terms of statistics, but in terms of wider popularity too.