Europa League Quarter-Final: Marseille flagging, but keeping the French flag flying

It’s the quarter-final stage in the Europa League and Marseille are France’s sole remaining representative in European competition. Seeking to go one better than in 1999 and 2004 when they reached the final of the then UEFA Cup, OM have a tricky away trip to RB Leipzig.

The fourth-placed team in the Bundesliga have bounced down to the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group behind Besiktas and Porto – and ahead of Monaco, whom they beat 4-1 at the Stade Louis II back in November. Since changing trains they have beaten Napoli on away goals (there were three of them) and then Zenit St Petersburg in the last round. This is their first season of European competition after finishing second in the Bundesliga last term – their first season in the top-flight after a series of promotions up from the fifth division since their creation in 2009.

RB (Lawn Ball Sports?) are also the youngest team in the Bundesliga with an average age of 24.4 – nobody’s over 30 except an unused goalkeeper. 22-year-old Timo Werner leads the attack, with six goals in Europe so far, three on each track, and eleven in the league – he and soon-to-be-Liverpudlian midfielder Naby Keita got the goals as they beat Bayern Munich 2-1 two games ago.

They also feature a handful of young Frenchmen – PSG-escapee Jean-Kevin Augustin, who got the equaliser against Zenit that put them through to this stage, and the centre back pairing who played that Bayern match. Former Valenciennes youth player 19-year-old Dayot Upamecano is a fixture at centre-back (and has a goal, against FC Augsburg), and 18-year-old Ibrahima Konate, ex-Sochaux, has a dozen matches in his first full senior season.

Marseille may be a bit conflicted here, as they are third in Ligue 1 but only two points ahead of Lyon. So far in the knock-out stage they have seen off Braga 3-1 on aggregate with goals from Valere Germain and Florian Thauvin, and Athletic Club Bilbao 5-2 with three goals from Lucas Ocampos and two from Dimitri Payet. European glory would be, of course, glorious, with the added temptation of the final being in Lyon, but the Champions League looks more accessible through the league route than the cup-winning route. This would be a difficult balancing act even with a full squadroom – with a lengthy injury list, it will be even harder.

Bouncing back after the defeat to Lyon in game 30, OM won 3-1 away at Dijon on Friday with some key players missing, most importantly Thauvin. Also, with Jordan Amavi suspended and Hiroki Sakai not fit after picking up a knock against OL, there were worrying pre-match rumours that Ocampos would be brought in at left-back. In the event Boubacar Kamara was drafted in for his first Ligue 1 start, and acquitted himself well, making it into L’Equipe’s team of the week.

The match featured a fair amount of late dramaTM. Germain had put OM ahead in the first half, but some canny substitutions from Olivier Dall’Oglio, bringing on Naim Sliti and Chang-hoon Kwon reinvigorated Dijon’s attack, and Kwon scored the equaliser pretty much immediately. Ocampos put OM back ahead on 88 minutes, and then in injury time all hell broke loose – Cedric Yambere was sent off for bringing down Ocampos, Baptiste Reynet got booked for protesting then saved Payet’s penalty with his feet, and then two minutes later Wesley Lautoa brought down Payet, who stepped up to take a second penalty, putting this one away.

A good result, but in amongst the chaos some worrying developments for OM’s squad situation. Steve Mandanda was replaced shortly after the restart after sustaining a muscular injury. After the same thing happened against Saint Etienne in game 25, he missed four matches. This time it looks worse, as he is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks.

Also, ten minutes from the end, Adil Rami limped off with calf-knack and will be out for two weeks. He was replaced by Gregory Sertic, only recently back fit, and who has not played since the start of October. Presumably he was preferred to Aymen Abdennour, who was also on the bench, to get him some minutes in case he is needed on Thursday – which looks like it might well be the case as Rolando is also out, leaving the official squad list featuring only one actual centre-back.

Add this to Thauvin’s ongoing hamstring injury and this is a difficult situation for Rudi Garcia to manage. Looking forward to the weekend, OM host Montpellier on Sunday, which they will be desperate to win to stop Lyon from catching them – and les Gones are away at Metz.

So, OM are fighting for their league position, which has to be the focus, particularly given the lengthening injury list that’s causing Garcia headaches all over the park. Meanwhile, our friends at OM Deutschland think that RBL may not have the same issues, saying “I find RB less confident than the time they played against Monaco (which was an excellent performance). But they are still pretty solid and they are desperate for popularity, so achieving a good run in the EL is essential for them”.

The odds obviously have Leipzig as favourites, 1.68 v 5.25, with the draw at 3.90 – and the OM’s position worsening throughout the week as the full scale of their injury woes became apparent. If OM can stitch together a functioning backline and get a point, that would be a very good result, and give them a fighting chance when they take them back to the Velodrome next week. Given the injury situation, however, this looks a very big ask.

 

Marseille – Cagnon, Pele, Escales – Sakai, Bedimo, Abdennour, Sarr, Amavi, Rocchia – Kamara, Sanson, Gustavo, Sertic, Lopez, Anguissa – Ocampos, Mitroglou, Payet, Njie, Germain

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