By Jean Sebastien Maire
Nothing is more frustrating to me than a club which has all the qualities needed to win another championship and is not fulfilling the expectations. Olympique de Marseille is that club I am referring to. After 14 stages in the French championship, Marseille is now 5th, with a game to play, 2 points behind Lille, the new leader since this weekend. Good stats anyone would say! Well not really since Marseille could have done way better and earn easy wins especially at home against Lens (draw 1-1 on the 13th stage) or away at Guingamp for the 1st round played in the League Cup (a very dull win 1-0).
Furthermore, even worse than those “positive” results, was the loss away against Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille’s archrival, 2-1 on November 7th. One has to understand that in France, for both OM and PSG, a win against the other team, even if your own team has a bad season is a must do. Losing that game, added to the fact that the team did not show any sign of revolt or will to win the Clasico, infuriated most of the fans, and created an unpleasant atmosphere around the team, with critics coming from journalists too, who were surprised by the difference between the level the team showed last year and this year’s level, with many issues on offense and much to say about Gignac or Remy’s performances.
Nevertheless, Marseille’s whole season could be entirely sent down the drain, since they managed to earn wins like the one at Lille (3-1 with a well mastered game), or the explosive 7-0 at Zilina for a Champions’ League game. During the last stage of the French championship, they even won 1-0 at Toulouse, a team always difficult to play especially on their field. Those wins are even more frustrating, because the potential to do better is there. Marseille is not playing well but is still very much in the battle for its second title in a row in the French League as well as a possible qualification for the next round in Champions League, two main goals set by the head office at the start of the season.
What is going then? Questions about Didier Deschamps’ future with the team (although the coach signed for another year extension with the team) arose after Marseille’s loss to Paris, especially because of the controversy with Jose Anigo, Marseille’s General Manager, on their respective role with the team, Anigo suggesting that Deschamps always tried to overrule his rulings on transfers and in general the extent to which Deschamps wanted to see his powers set were not compatible with Marseille’s organization right now. Besides that, Azpilicueta, Gignac and Remy, three top recruits are not reaching their normal level of playing, raising questions about the prices paid for those three players (around €40 million in total). But even more than organizational or human issues, the level of the team itself needs to be taken to the next level compared to what it was last year. Marseille had a very strong defense, on which it based its solidity and strength, added to players who could play together in a tactic that gave Marseille the power to strike at any minute, with a creative and reassuring midfield playing alongside an offense that finished in the top 3 of the League last year. That, as a whole gave Marseille the ability to win the championship last year, something that is not assured at the end of the road for the team if it keeps playing that way.
Still, one has to admit that the level of the League as a whole is pretty low this year, since no team is showing signs of overall dominant results. Will that be Marseille’s chance? Montpellier (2nd in standings) and Rennes (3rd) are coming to the Vélodrome stadium in the next couple of weeks, two wins against those teams will put Marseille in the leading seat, with the aim to finally settle the critics and show what the team is really capable of.
The game against Spartak Moscow away, on Tuesday 23rd will also be a good indicator, Marseille needing a win to assure itself a better position in the group ranking before hosting Chelsea (already qualified) for the last group stage.