Batshuayi the hero as Marseille move three points ahead at the top
Olympique de Marseille stretched their lead at the top of the Ligue 1 standings on Sunday afternoon, with a two-one victory over Lille in front of a record crowd at the Stade Vélodrome.
The result also increased the club’s winning run at home to nine games. Marcelo Bielsa’s side came from behind to win what would be their last match of 2014, and the victory pushes them two points ahead of second-placed Lyon, as well as allowing them to pick up the informal title of ‘ Champion d’Automne ‘ (Autumn Champions).
Although there have been both ups and downs so far in the Bielsa era, the contrast between Les Marseillais’ fortunes this season and last has given France’s top division another enthralling dimension, as it is worth remembering that at this time last year OM were in sixth position, level on points with seventh place Reims. Much has since changed at the Vélodrome, with bigger crowds, better football and regular wins giving the league leaders and their passionate support a lot more to smile.
A slight tactical change saw the home side start with Belgian international Michy Batshuayi, who moved to Marseille from Standard de Liège in the summer, beginning the match behind the lone centre-forward André-Pierre Gignac. The Belgian has spoken recently of his desire to start matches for his new side, so the unexplained absence from the starting line-up and Matchday squad of Dimitri Payet, a player who has been so influential for OM this season, gave the attacker the perfect opportunity to proves his worth on his first Ligue 1 start.
Bielsa explained after the game that Payet hadn’t been dropped because of a ‘discipline issue’, but the Argentine’s decision to omit one of his most important players from his squad before a game of such importance to the potential title race would have caused ,to say the least, a few raised eyebrows on the street of Marseille. The French footballing press however has learned since Bielsa’s arrival that sometimes it is best to expect the unexpected when it comes to following ‘El Loco’s’ unique way of dealing with things in his role as the club’s coach.
As always, the home side attempted to dominate proceedings straight from kick-off, hoping to pressurize their visitors from the North, who are often regarded as a team that prefers to sit deep and invite teams onto them. In the early stages of the match both Batshuayi and Gignac had chances to open the scoring, but they couldn’t work Vincent Enyeama in the LOSC goal.
Just after the half-hour mark, Marseille opened the scoring in the most fortunate of fashions, when Nolan Roux inadvertently diverted former Lille man Florian Thauvin’s corner past his own keeper with the laces of his boot. Marseille took a deserved lead up the tunnel at half-time and the roar from the home support seemed to acknowledge the fact that the first part of the job had been a success.
Upon the hour mark, Roux made way for Michael Frey, Lille’s bright Swiss attacking prospect. The twenty-year old made his presence felt almost immediately when Florent Balmont picked him out with a through pass which helped the away side to launch a quick counter-attack. Frey then did well to pick out Djibril Sidibé with a low cross, and the Troyes youth product found Idrissa Gueye who fired his side in front from just inside the box, making OM’s quest for three points a bit more complicated.
However, just ten minutes after conceding, a new Marseillais hero would be born. Thauvin, who has at times been criticized for his lack of end product, did brilliantly to overcome the double-marking that LOSC coach René Girard had ordered upon him, when he chipped a left-foot cross back towards the edge of the box from the wing, which Batshuayi did well to gather. The Belgian still had plenty of work to do, but he did ever so well to use his strength to find a bit of space and release a right-foot strike which sailed past Enyeama into the top corner left of the net.
The goal would be enough to seal the three points for Marseille in a near poetic way, but what the victory meant to the home support was best demonstrated just before full-time, when Jérémy Morel’s block which brought the last LOSC attack of the game to a halt was greeted with a raucous outburst of collective joy from the fans in les tribunes.
This year, Marseille have been a living and breathing example of what can happen to a football club when its supporters are won back on its side and when a squad believes in itself and its manager once again. Sunday’s result demonstrated the importance of the role the fans can play in their club’s renaissance, but if this side is to truly become a title contender, it must not only continue its impressive form at home, it will also have to improve its performances on the road.
It is potentially in away games that this season’s Ligue 1 title will be lost and won, with both Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon also likely to win most of their games at home this season.
Lyon overtake PSG as they hit five to blow Bordeaux apart
Hubert Fournier’s Olympique Lyonnais side, despite having had a very shaky start to the campaign, have been one of the most exciting sides to watch this year in Ligue 1, as a result of the streamlined attacking football they have played and the fact that their squad is almost entirely made up of homegrown graduates from their world-renowned and respected academy.
Despite several impressive performances so far, none had quite reached the level of their five-nil victory on Sunday evening in Bordeaux, which left the home support in a stunned silence and neutrals failing to find words to reflect accurately the quality of OL’s play. The most significant outcome of the result was its implication on the overall league standings, as the win allowed Lyon to leapfrog Paris Saint-German, and force the French champions down into the unfamiliar realm of third place.
Despite the obvious attacking threat they would face, Willy Sagnol’s side would have been optimistically confident about their chances of pulling off a shock result which would have benefited their former coach, PSG manager Laurent Blanc.
Les Girondins were unbeaten this season at the Stade Chaban-Delmas ahead of the last Ligue 1 confrontation of 2014, and this confidence was reflected in Sagnol’s decision to play three players upfront, including the inform Cheick Diabaté and the skillful winger Thomas Touré.
The game began fairly evenly, with both sides looking to exert their own tactical identities upon the match, but with both sides cancelling each other out equally. However, on thirty-nine minutes Lyon demonstrated how clinical they can be when they’re given the chance, as they scored through one of their classic counter-attacking moves.
Nabil Fekir, who has been in exceptional form this season, played a beautifully crafted pass through which found Alexandre Lacazette. The French international, who is the current leading Ligue 1 goalscorer, dispatched a powerful finish without any hesitation whatsoever past Cédric Carrasso, giving the away side the lead.
Just over ten minutes after the restart, OL then doubled their lead in equally devastating fashion when Lacazette, proving that he is much more than just a goalscorer, teed Corentin Tolisso up perfectly. The midfielder then scored his third of the season so far with a powerful right-foot strike from the edge of the area.
Things then went from bad to worse for the home side when Nicolas Pallois was shown a straight red card. The former Chamois Niortais centre-back clumsily dived into Clinton N’Jie, who had easily outpaced him to meet a driven pass. There was no doubt that Pallois had gone for the ball, but his tackle did appear to unfairly impede N’Jie, who’d latched onto the ball in a promising position.
It didn’t take long for Lyon’s advantage of having an extra man on the park to show, as Fournier’s side’s pressure upon Bordeaux became incessant. With just over nine minutes of play remaining, Grégory Sertic failed to deal with a ball launched forward by OL stopper Anthony Lopes, and his error of judgement then allowed Nabil Fekir to run in on goal, before coolly rounding Carrasso and stabbing the ball home for Lyon’s third of the game.
Fekir and Lacazette, so often the providers for Les Gones, once again combined brilliantly to then play in Jordan Ferri (yet another top quality academy product), who then scored the fourth with a low right-foot shot. The last goal would be scored in the final minute of play, when Henri Bedimo found Lacazette with a cut back cross, which the striker volleyed home to score his seventeenth goal of the league campaign so far.
It’s fairly easy in football to become overexcited about ‘golden generations’ of youth players who’ve made it through to the first-team of their formation club, however with this Lyon side there appear to be genuine reasons to be enthusiastic.
The Lyonnais midfield trio of club captain Maxime Gonalons, Fekir and Ferri are without a shadow of a doubt among the most exciting players in their position in France, if not in the rest of the continent. Lacazette is proving himself this season to be a striker whose potential is limitless, as he keeps setting himself newer and bigger objectives with each week that passes, developing and perfecting aspects of his game with every match that he plays.
At times, this homegrown Lyon side has appeared to be the almost personified antithesis of PSG, giving Ligue 1 a much needed breath of fresh air.
Winter blues – PSG slump to costly home draw against MHSC
For most outside of the capital, the fact that PSG this season haven’t had things all their own way has given Ligue 1 some much needed energy, with talk now heating up about a potentially captivating three-way run-in for the title. However, in the Paris-based media, most noticeably in the daily Le Parisien, there’s an almost palpable sense of panic that’s beginning to emerge, much to the delight of Marseille fans.
Saturday afternoon’s goalless draw with tenth-placed Montpellier hasn’t helped the situation, with PSG now resting uncomfortably in third as result, and with Saint-Étienne now also trailing Laurent Blanc’s side by just two points. PSG’s hypothetical half-season report card would almost certainly read ‘must do better’.
PSG had an embarrassing moment midweek when they had to recover from a goal behind to win their Coupe de la Ligue clash with mid-table Ligue 2 side AJ Ajaccio, so as a result Blanc would have been keen to stress to his side that a repeat of such a shock at the Parc des Princes would be intolerable, given the potential pressure that could be put on his side by Marseille and Lyon in the event of a slip-up.
An uneventful first-half, which saw a Montpellier goal narrowly ruled offside and Edinson Cavani frustrate the home support with his lack of awareness in front of goal, was roundly met with boos. The second-half would have to be better than the first if Les Parisiens’ hopes of winning a vital three points were to be realized.
The second-half began like the first, with PSG unable to create any real dangerous opportunities and an increasingly frustrated home support then booed Edinson Cavani as he and Blaise Matuidi were replaced by Adrien Rabiot and Jean-Christophe Bahebeck.
Blanc would’ve been hoping for an instant impact from the two PSG youth products, but it wasn’t to come. Montpellier, coached by Rolland Courbis, himself a formidable defender in his playing days, remained very well organised defensively, with centre-back Abdelhamid El Kaoutari defending solidly and the exciting France U21 midfielder Morgan Sanson impressing with a very committed and disciplined display.
In the end, it was this determination and resilience that would prevent the home side from keeping second place with a win.