Hard work and humility are the keys to Marseille’s fine season – and they’re qualities that Sunday’s opponents Lyon could do with, writes Matthew Spiro.
Marseille’s safe progress to the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday night, and Lyon’s failure to join them, will not have come as a major surprise to regular viewers of the two teams. Lyon are a side flushed with talent. In Nabil Fekir, Memphis Depay, Bertrand Traoré and Mariano Diaz, they boast tremendous goal-scoring potential. Houssem Aouar, Tanguy Ndombele and Lucas Tousart form one of the most promising midfields in Europe.
They are – in terms of individual players at least – superior to Marseille. Yet the Mediterranean side are the better team. They have proved that through their consistency both domestically and in Europe, displaying an ability to stick together on the pitch and fight their way through difficult games. OM will be confident of ending OL’s hopes of Champions League qualification by beating them on Sunday and pulling eight points clear – and rightly so.
In recent weeks, OL have resembled a disjointed rabble. A collective that is inferior to the sum of its parts. Whether that is because too many players have allowed their egos to disrupt the side’s progress or because Bruno Genesio’s message is no longer getting through remains unclear, but club president Jean-Michel Aulas evidently has some tough decisions to make this summer.
Unless the Rhône Valley outfit can produce a big and largely unexpected reaction at the Vélodrome, and then go on to secure Champions League football, Aulas will also have a job on his hands convincing Fekir to stay. The France forward has risen to the challenge of captaining his hometown team this term, and he is one man who should be exempt of any blame for the current situation. Currently injured, Fekir’s absence against CSKA Moscow on Thursday was sorely felt and will be again on Sunday.
Marseille, in contrast, have coped well when their star attacker Florian Thauvin has been missing. Against Toulouse last weekend it was struggle for long periods. But Garcia’s men stood firm thanks to a dogged defence expertly marshalled by the experienced, gnarled Adil Rami, and a goalkeeper, Steve Mandanda, who it seems was put on to this earth to win points for OM. They soaked up pressure before substitutes Dimitri Payet and Kostas Mitroglou combined for a winner. Likewise, the week before, Marseille lacked fluidity against Nantes yet kept plugging away and levelled in added time through Thauvin.
While Genesio will be blamed for Lyon’s difficulties, Garcia deserves huge credit for Marseille’s steady rise. The summer signings of Mandanda, Rami and the club’s best player Luiz Gustavo have proved inspired. All three are gifted individuals, but above all they are strong characters and exemplary professionals. When Frank Zambo Anguissa, Morgan Sanson and Maxime Lopez see how hard Luiz Gustavo trains every day, they know just how much work they need to do to reach the highest level.
There have been many give-away signs. Payet’s selfless gesture against Metz, when he squared the ball to Mitroglou to offer the much-maligned Greek striker an open goal, hinted at the existence of a happy dressing room. It is hard to imagine Depay or Mariano doing the same for one of their under-fire colleagues. Indeed, the way the entire Marseille team celebrated with the former Benfica man against Toulouse on Sunday also spoke volumes.
Lyon have the chance to make me eat my words on Sunday. They have the ability within their ranks to go and win at Marseille. But do they have the team? That is the real question, and given the recent performances and attitudes of the two sides, it is a scenario that appears more than unlikely.