By Jean Sebastien Maire
Marseille started the championship with two losses against Caen and at Valenciennes, two teams that no one expects to see in the first quarter or even first half of the standings at the end, then followed with a win at home against Lorient 2-0 although the game was not convincing enough for most of the people following the French championship. During those three games, “l’OM” as the club is called in France, did not show any signs of defensive stability and an obvious lack of team spirit, most probably due to the little time the players spent together to prepare for the season. Though the next game away in Bordeaux showed that Marseille had the capacities and the resources to defend its championship title with much more strength than what it had showed since the beginning of the season. A draw, obtained during the 5 last minutes by Bordeaux after Marseille played more than half of the game with a man less, gave signs of a solid team, with a strong and hardworking midfield, able to resist the numerous attacks one after another, almost until the end. Still, one point earned at this game was seen as a counter performance knowing that Marseille easily dominated the game, with a goal by Lucho Gonzalez at the 12nd, until Edouard Cisse received a red card at the 34th. Bordeaux has been able to keep its invincibility at home against Marseille since 1977. After this arduous start, Marseille was set to receive Monaco in a game that most observers saw as a test for Marseille’s good intentions seen in the last two games. Alas, once again a nervous defense (the 5th different strategy in defense used by Didier Deschamps the trainer in as many games played) cost Marseille two points at home 2-2, with two goals on Monaco’s side by Niculae at the 15th and Park at the 79th answered by two goals by Valbuena at the 42nd and an own goal by Monaco’s defenseman Adriano at the 81st. Marseille after 5 games played is now ranked 13th with 5 little points, 6 less than the year before in their quest for the title.
The Champions League (photo) started 3 days after this game and a new endeavor began with the welcoming of Spartak Moscow, 2nd of the last Russian championship, a historic club in Europe especially in the early 90’s. In a group where Chelsea is supposed to clinch the first spot, Marseille and Spartak appeared to be two candidates for the second spot qualifying for the second round of the competition, since Zilina, participating for the first time in this competition seems to be the weakest team of the group. Qualifying for the second round has been stated as an essential goal for Marseille by its leadership, since the club has not been able to do it for 3 years now. The game started well for Marseille, exercising a high pressure, trying to suffocate Spartak’s every intention during around fifteen minutes. Spartak Moscow showed very little or no intention to keep the ball whatsoever, letting Marseille dominate, adding one dangerous action after the other, but as it is the case since the start of the season, without scoring quickly. Marseille failed in the creative side of their game, lacking imagination and speed, although their intentions were praiseworthy. Cisse and Cheyrou in the midfield controlled the game with much command and vision, Valbuena and Ayew exchanged their spots several times during the game in order to create more impact on Spartak’s defense, Brandao was pretty active on the front side, disturbing the Russian defense with his size. Still, Marseille did not score, missed several enormous possibilities, with Cheyrou at the 46th, Taiwo at the 67th and Lucho Gonzalez with an incredible opportunity at the 76th missing alone right in front of the nets. Valbuena added to Marseille despair with a terrible shot at the 75th but brilliantly stopped by Spartak’s goalkeeper, Dykan. The entrance of Andre-Pierre Gignac’s, Marseille new recruit, did not change anything at the result. Spartak, waiting in its half of the field started to gain confidence and slowly took back the ball out of Marseille’s feet. Opportunities became more frequent and got closer to Marseille’s nets. What everyone feared became reality at the 81st minute, with a quick counter attack Spartak scored a goal that they did not really deserved, but that they built with much patience during a period when they underwent a huge pressure by Marseille. Even worse, it is Cesar Azpilicueta, Marseille’s right winger who scored an own goal which gave Spartak the three points.
As it was the case last year with a loss against A.C. Milan in the first game of the group stage, Marseille does not take the opportunity to earn three points at home against a direct opponent for the qualifier. With only 4 points won out of 9 possible at home in both the championship and the Champions League, Marseille has become a welcoming place for visiting teams, where a couple of years ago, every teams feared to come and play at the Velodrome. Didier Deschamps is now feeling the pressure rising, especially after winning the title last year, which put even more expectation on his shoulders for this year’s outcome. Marseille needs time, players need to mix in and create a real collective. This will take time, and the victory on Saturday Arles-Avignon 3-0 is good sign of recovery.