What has happened to the Marseille attack?

In the grand scheme of things, it’s very much been a successful season for Olympique Marseille. Short of a massive collapse in form, Marseille have a real solid opportunity to finish in the top three in Ligue 1 (either the two automatic Champions League spots or the third place Champions League playoff spot).

Marseille have at times been the most intoxicating offense to watch in Ligue 1, led by Marcelo Bielsa. The manager has infused an eccentricity into Marseille whether it’s through the fluidity of his tactics (the free flowing nature of how the team play three at the back within their 4-2-3-1) or the type of cooler that Bielsa will sit on during the match.

But lately the spark has simmered. Marseille for a chunk of the season were on top of the table in Ligue 1 but their flamboyant offense has fizzled out.

 

Through the first ten weeks, Marseille led the league with 25 goals scored, five more than the next best mark which was 20 by Olympique Lyonnais. Since then? They’re seventh at 17 goals in 12 games, tied in fact with noted juggernauts like Montpellier, Reims and Guingamp.

In fact Nice have scored two more goals during the same time span than Marseille.

So what has happened to this once high powered attack? Well a couple of things. I wrote about Olympique Marseille during the height of their goal scoring prowess and offered up this when the thought of sustainability was broached:

It’s been a great story to see the revival of one of France’s historic clubs. The inevitable question to ask after all that is whether this whole thing is sustainable, and in a word: no. Sustaining a 1178 PDO over a large stretch of the season will be close to impossible to do.

 

Matter of fact, just sustaining a conversion% of close to 50% over the rest of the season is practically impossible by itself. You don’t want to use “the schedule has been soft” as a crutch because there’s soft schedules spots for every team at the level of a Marseille or a Bordeaux or a Lille, but this is a hot streak that will likely run its course in the near future.

The highest PDO for the record that was attained last season in Ligue 1 was 1148 by PSG, in a season that lacked anything close to the league wide parity that this season has. PDO relatively so does wean out and average something close to 1000 as the mean in soccer.

However, the big clubs can have very high PDO numbers from year to year on account of having really good players.

Besides the inflated PDO numbers, what made Marseille so vastly intriguing with that surge of performance was how it was done with pretty much the same squad as last season other than the addition of Roman Alessandrini (whose been mostly used as a substitute), and Michu Batshuayi.

What I did was track Marseille’s pseudo ExPG data game by game from the start of the 2013-14 season until their most recent match, a 2-1 defeat versus Nice, and lined it up with the club’s non penalty goal tally during the same duration.

Marseille

Last season, Marseille had a ExPG data of 49.96 and scored 51 open play goals. This season? Marseille have accumulated a ExPG tally of 36.17 and have scored 38 open play goals.

How can we then explain that Marseille surge? Well again, when your conversion percentage during that five game stretch is ~50%, chances are that you’re likely to score a boatload of goals. Between week four and week ten, Marseille scored 20 open play goals when their ExPG data had them pegged at 13.5.

Is it possible that Bielsa had some sort of part in how Marseille went considerably above how the ExPG data predicted during that eight week stretch? Perhaps.

Marseille did have two managers last season so there was certainly an ample amount of turmoil, and there’s something to be said for having a manager who on a national team level favored attack minded football. But even if we accept that, Marseille’s attack has pretty much returned back to what the pseudo ExPG data predicted.

Which is fine for what it’s worth. The pseudo ExPG data rates Marseille as the best attacking team in Ligue 1 this season by a good distance and they’re second in non penalty goals scored behind the rampant (and somewhat over their head) Lyon squad.

It’s not a crime to say that Marseille are more a less the team that they’ve been for 52 of the 60 games since 2013-14: a squad that will consistently score one or two goals per game with the odd three goal output sprinkled in, and not the team that blazed through Ligue 1 like a butter knife for that eight week stretch early in the season.

Author Details

Mohamed

Ligue 1 analyst/writer for Back Page Football. Data is often incorporated. Ligue 1 is really fun, just give it a chance!

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