Marseille were the hosts but not necessarily the favourites in this Olympico – the nickname for matches between Olympique de Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais. They started the game four points above Lyon in the Ligue 1 table, but the visitors had been showing some renewed attacking verve under new manager Laurent Blanc, who replaced Peter Bosz last month and enjoyed an uptick in results after bringing in Jérôme Boateng and Houssem Aouar from the cold.
Lyon had looked more solid in their recent wins over Lille and Montpellier, especially against Paulo Fonseca’s attack-minded Lille team. A win at the Vélodrome would have taken them within a point of Marseille, and above Lille on goal difference, putting them within touching distance of the top six before the World Cup, no mean feat given their abject run of results in September.
While Lyon’s form had improved, though, Marseille’s own results had taken a nosedive. Igor Tudor’s side had won just one of their previous nine matches – and that was against a Sporting side who finished the game with nine men. Their confidence must have been sapped even further after their heartbreaking defeat to Spurs in the Champions League in midweek.
Marseille produced an enterprising display and took the lead in the first half, but the night went from bad to worse as Spurs equalised through Clément Lenglet before winning the game in the 95th minute thanks to a goal from Pierre-Emile Højberg. At one point in the evening Marseille were on course to reach the last-16 stage of the Champions League, but by the end of the night they had been knocked out of Europe completely. Given their charitable draw, finishing last in the group was an embarrassment. And, to make matters worse, their league form has suffered while they have been competing on two fronts.
The elimination put pressure on Tudor. The Croatian’s bold decisions to bench Dimitri Payet, Bamba Dieng and Gerson looked more suspect by the minute and, with a dangerous Monaco team to come next weekend, the former Verona boss needed a result against Lyon. L’Équipe’s headline for their match preview put it bluntly: “Maximum Pressure.”
Lyon have had Marseille’s number in recent years, even doing the double over them last year despite finishing well below Marseille’s second place. On the night, Tudor was given a rough welcome by fans but, to his credit, he kept to his principles tactically and personnel-wise.
The match was a scrappy affair, with Samuel Gigot’s goal towards the end of the first half enough to secure all three points for Marseille. There was only one booking, but neither side – urged on by a baying Vélodrome crowd – was willing to give much in the duels. It was a deserved win for the hosts, who moved to within a point of the top three after Rennes could only draw in Lille.
Tudor was quick to say it had been a team effort, while also reminding the media that Marseille have not had the rub of the green lately. “It was an important, special match, especially in a period when we haven’t really got what we deserved,” he said. “We really dominated in the first half. We had a second half where we showed plenty of heart. It was difficult. We had to fight for it. There was a desire to take the three points at all costs – among the starters as well as the players who came on.”
Marseille’s wing-backs, Nuno Tavares and Jonathan Clauss, were both eager to get forward. Clauss is usually the more natural outlet but Tavares – who is on loan from Arsenal – made several fine crosses and added balance to the attack. The player deserving of the most praise, however, was unquestionably Alexis Sánchez.
The club’s decision to sign him in the summer was pilloried by some as he seemed to be on the wane after falling out of favour at Inter. He has, however, become a fulcrum for the team both on and off the pitch, winning the hearts of the Vélodrome faithful, even as most of them pine for Payet’s return to the side. His unending running unsettled a Lyon defence that looked uncomfortable playing in a back four for the first time under Blanc. The 33-year-old showed admirable effort, battling hard to win headers and drag defenders out of position. Like Lionel Messi, Sánchez looked to be in decline last season before adopting a slightly different position and improving this year.
The frustration of Marseille’s elimination from Europe will still sting, but there is plenty of football to play this season domestically in France. With the resolute Tudor and the diligent Sánchez leading the way, Marseille should return to that competition sooner rather than later.
After winning eight of their first 10 matches this season, Lorient have recently been on a bad run, failing to win any of their last four. Injuries to top scorer Terem Moffi and influential midfielder Laurent Abergel have played their part, with the team also realising that competing with the top teams in the league is a bridge too far. Playing PSG – who were missing Lionel Messi and were coming off a midweek match in the Champions League – at home gave Lorient a chance to right the ship. Neymar had other ideas though, scoring the opener and assisting Danilo Pereira for the second as the visitors won 2-1. The Brazilian has scored or set up a goal in all but one of the league matches he has started this season. If Brazil were not already World Cup favourites, his form makes a convincing argument.
Rennes continued their stunning unbeaten run with a 1-1 draw at Lille. Their goal came from a soft penalty given against Jonathan Bamba on Christopher Wooh. How Bamba was left to mark a player eight inches taller than him is more of the problem but, with Steve Mandanda on form, the Bretons secured an ugly point against another European hopeful, despite the absence of Martin Terrier. The Champions League was just beyond their reach last season but, with an extended break and a deeper squad, could Bruno Génésio drag his side back into Europe’s top competition?
Monaco won 2-0 at Toulouse to move within a point of the top three. Manager Philippe Clement set about improving his team’s defence after their 4-3 defeat to Lille last month and they have now kept two clean sheets in a row. They are moving in the right direction as they prepare to face Marseille on Sunday.