Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughA week in Marseille - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough A week in Marseille - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

A week in Marseille

The most popular club in France just spent one of the most demanding weeks of the season since August. During that week, three games were destined to make or break their season according to experts.

Last Saturday, they travelled the short distance on the South Coast to Montpellier who are high flying at the moment. So was Marseille before the game: 7 games unbeaten and 15 points from a possible 21. The early season trauma which saw them pick up only 3 points from their opening 6 games was supposedly behind them. Many players that were performing last season (Marseille finished 2nd) took their time to find their form again (Valbuena, André Ayew or Loïc Rémy) while the signings were slow in settling in apart from Nicolas Nkouou (who only had to travel a few miles from Monaco in the summer). Indeed Jérémy Morel, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano were heavily criticized by press and supporters. But none received as much criticism as head coach Dider Deschamps whose rows with director of football José Anigo were a weekly event at least on the South Coast.

The good form thus suffered a blow at Montpellier as Marseille suffered their first defeat since the early season horror form. Since then, Deschamps has opted for 4-4-2 and the hardworking defence and midfield caused problems to the neighbours as the game needed a Marseille own goal (Souleymane Diawara on the hour mark) to win the game. It certainly wasn’t a performance to be ashamed of as Montpellier were (and still are) high flying beating almost everyone and rarely losing (just two defeats in 15 games: at home to PSG and at Lyon) but the unbeaten run was gone.

Fast forward to the following Wednesday 4 days later. Marseille hosted Greek champions Olympiakos knowing that a draw was probably enough to see them progress to the knock-out stage of the Champions’ League. Marseille lost again 1-0 but this time the performance was shambolic against an opposition they probably underestimated after winning in Greece on the same scoreline back in September. Most defensive players have nothing to feel sorry about especially the goalkeeper Mandanda who was voted MOTM in L’Equipe (8/10) but the attack was toothless at best. Mandanda made several brilliant saves to deny Olympiakos a win but the goal finally came 10 minutes from time and put the visitors back in the mix for 2nd place (Arsenal having Borussia Dortmund 2-1 that same night are sure to finish top). The last day could end up with 3 sides ending with a similar amount of points (if Borussia Dortmund beats Marseille and Olympiakos draw at home to Arsenal). The Germans need to win by 4 clear goals to leapfrog Marseille (Marseille defeated them 3-0 despite playing poorly) while Marseille need to better Olympiakos’ result which may be tough knowing that the Greeks have a decent home form (in fairness the Marseille home game in September was their first game of the season). In what was a diabolical week for French clubs in the Champions’ League (Marseille’s loss aside, Lyon failed to beat Ajax Amsterdam and are all but out), Marseille would do well to progress in order to keep the French UEFA coefficients high (France are narrowly in front of Portugal as it stands).

The following day, on Thursday, trouble in the dressing room as big money signing from Toulouse André-Pierre Gignac argued with Deschamps over his deadline day transfer for Fulham that was annulled at the last minute and him being sent to fat camp (he was seriously fat though). Gignac was then helped by Benoît Cheyrou who is part of a group of players that support more José Anigo than Didier Deschamps. This clash has been going on for months (it is said in some places that it was already present last season) and players are divided as is the staff. You can even see Deschamps during games speaking to his assistant manager, Guy Stéphan, hand over mouth as if not wanting Anigo to decrypt whatever it is he is saying. Such animosity cannot be good for team morale (added to the fact that the fans are quite quickly on the back of the staff and players when things go wrong) and generally the chairman has to decide what to do in such a situation. Jean-Claude Dassier was chairman of the club since last summer but he has since been replaced by Vincent Labrune. He has done nothing to calm things down between Deschamps or Anigo (he seems to part with the latter which is odd considering Deschamps’ track-record as Marseille manager) and the confrontation within the club remains. The majority shareholder, Margarita Louis-Dreyfus (widow of ex-coffin filler Robert Louis-Dreyfus), even warned Deschamps that unrest within the club won’t be going on forever and results needed to change fast. Since then, Deschamps has been given until the winter break to fix the situation. Not a great position to be in when you’re preparing for the biggest game of the season: home to PSG.

Following his outburst, Gignac was suspended for this game and forced to train with the reserves (he has since been allowed to train with the first team) so Rémy started upfront but Deschamps’ gameplan in a 4-2-3-1 involved having a strong midfield (Diarra and M’Bia being the defensive midfielders) and play PSG on the counter. It worked. The defence was solid, the midfield was able to contain anything that was thrown at them (helped, it has to be said, by a very poor performance from PSG’s record signing Javier Pastore) and the counter-attacking was effective. PSG troubled Mandanda just once: a Mohamed Sissoko long-ranger that struck the post. Even having their first-choice striker Loïc Rémy, who scored the opening goal, substituted after half an hour didn’t change anything, Deschamps quite simply outwitted PSG manager Antoine Kombouaré who has finally understood that Javier Pastore is not Superman and that every once in a while needs a rest as the Argentine isn’t making the trip to Salzburg this Thursday for a Europa League group stage game.

However, this particular gameplan won’t be effective against sides that don’t attack (so pretty much the whole league except for the big boys) and Deschamps will have to produce several other rabbits out of his hat to keep critics happy. Optimism is kept at a minimum on the South Coast despite this morale-boosting win. Marseille’s current form is nothing to be ashamed of (18 points out of 30, the league’s 4th best in-form team) but they need to show that they can be consistent as the objective remains Champions’ League football every season; right now Marseille are still 7 points off 3rd spot. Can they get back in contention despite the internal unrest surrounding the club? This weekend’s trip to Caen looks just as crucial for Deschamps as was last Sunday’s classico…

Philip Bargiel



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *