Marseille: A Dummies’ Guide
This season, Marseille ceded their position as the most decorated club in France to PSG. But who are they? And can they cause problems for Atletico Madrid?
Despite being France’s most successful team on the European stage, Olympique de Marseille do not have a lot to shout about regarding recent success.
Their best performance in the last decade was a Champions League quarter-final exit to Bayern Munich in 2011-12.
Back then, their team boasted the likes of Mathieu Valbuena, Cesar Azpilicueta and Loic Remy but, after a serious financial issue with the clubs owners, their best players were offloaded to ease the economic burden.
Marseille were eventually bought out in October 2016 by American sports tycoon Frank McCourt, who brought in previous Ligue 1 winner Rudi Garcia at the managerial helm. McCourt also followed through on his promise and invested heavily in the first team.
Now, Les Olympiens are back on their feet and looking to reestablish themselves as one of France’s biggest teams. PSG may be untouchable for now, but McCourt’s long-term goal is to overtake the Qatari owned club as the strongest team in the country.
Marseille have received criticism from their rivals over the perceived lucky draw they’ve received so far on their way to the Europa League final but Garcia’s team have still taken down notable teams from across the continent.
After qualifying second from their group behind RB Salzburg, they overcame Braga, Athletic Bilbao, RB Leipzig in the knockout stages before taking their revenge over Salzburg to reach the final where they now face Atletico Madrid.
Domestically, there is one game left to play in Ligue 1, and there is still a lot at stake for Marseille. Only the top three teams from the French league qualify for the Champions League stage and the south coast club occupy fourth position.
They need to win against minnows Amiens and hope that either Monaco or Lyon slip up in their final fixture. The final match could become meaningless for the club, though, if they topple Diego Simeone’s side.
Marseille’s three key players are all players who left the club during their financial crisis and were purchased again by the club.
Florian Thauvin has made shockwaves in Ligue 1 and finds himself in second place in both the goals and assists tables behind Edinson Cavani and Neymar, respectively. The ex-Newcastle United man has been sensational since his return from Tyneside. Thauvin is aggressive with his dribbling and will try to beat his man on the right wing and arrives late to crosses from the other side of the pitch.
His brilliance this campaign led to a nomination for the player of the season award in Ligue 1, which was eventually won by Neymar.
The second key man is a former West Ham sensation. Dimitri Payet may have left the Premier League in a rush in January last year, but he did not hit the ground running on his return to the south of France. After a slow 12 months, he has found his form at the right time, though.
Since the beginning of March, Payet has scored five goals and recorded 11 assists, including providing the decisive pass for the goal which took Marseille to the Europa League final. His pinpoint passing will be indispensable if Atletico Madrid’s sturdy defence is to be tested.
The final key player will be more focused on keeping Marseille’s net from bulging. Steve Mandanda’s move to Crystal Palace did not work out with injury disrupting his time there. His quality as a goalkeeper has never been in doubt, though, and many at Selhurst Park were sad to see him leave.
Mandanda is France’s second choice goalkeeper behind Hugo Lloris and with good reason. The stopper was also voted Ligue 1 goalkeeper of the year for 2017/18 recently for the fifth time. Mandanda is a humble man off the pitch but a formidable player on it. Antoine Griezmann and Co. will have to be at their best to trump him.
OM are probably the most supported club within France. Their success in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the size of the city has made them one of the more recognisable and popular French clubs, although PSG are now ahead of them internationally.
In overcoming RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg, their home performances carried them through the ties. At the Stade Velodrome, the atmosphere was electric and striker Valere Germain said after the Leipzig quarterfinal that when the fans are like that; it galvanises the team (Source in French).
Marseille are not at home in the final but Lyon is just a three-hour drive from the south coast and OM fans are expected to swarm the city before the match to back their team.
Marseille are a team that play on confidence. If their fans back them to the hilt, they can put any team to the sword.
Marseille’s versatility is their biggest strength. Garcia’s team has a wide range of talent in the midfield. Summer signing Luiz Gustavo has been instrumental in the success of the team this season and his brilliant defensive work has been complemented by the vision of Morgan Sanson and Dimitri Payet in midfield.
Youngster Maxime Lopez has often featured in the Europa League too, and the creative Frenchman will be one to watch in years to come.
At central defence, the team has two old heads who know the game well in Adil Rami and Rolando. Their ability to read the game will be crucial as they do not have the pace to keep up with strikers. Fortunately, full-backs Jordan Amavi and Bouna Sarr more than make up for the legs that their defensive partners are lacking.
Marseille’s biggest weakness is one which does not make good reading for their fans going into the Europa League final.
The club has a diabolical recent record against the other top teams in France. Since, and including, the 2014/15 season, Marseille have beaten the other three big French clubs (PSG, Lyon and Monaco) only once in 24 league attempts.
Their table position this season is down to their ruthlessness against the teams below them and their strong home form. When they play in Lyon on Wednesday night, they will have neither home advantage (although the game will be in France) nor are Atletico Madrid a small team they can bully.
Their star man Florian Thauvin is also accused of disappearing in the big games and being a flat track bully. He will have a point to prove when he comes up against Atletico, but history suggests that he could be in for a long night.
Marseille lack a strong centre-forward too. Thauvin, playing from the right wing is the top scorer with 25 in all competitions. Their left winger Lucas Ocampos trails him with 13 goals.
Germain and Kostas Mitroglou have been rotated as the central striker but neither have set the world alight with their performances.
OM are the only French club to win the Champions League. Their main goal this season was just to qualify for the tournament next campaign. Now, though, their eyes are set on European silverware.
Marseille will have to play to their strengths and exploit the wide areas in the final and, with Payet’s set piece prowess, their best chance may come from a dead ball situation.
Atletico Madrid will no doubt make life difficult for OM’s attack, though, and look to hit them on the counter-attack.
What do you think? Can Marseille win the Europa League? Let us know in the comments below.