After a summer of strife, Marseille have clicked under Igor Tudor | Marseille


Marseille have been erratic and unpredictable in the Frank McCourt era. Under the American’s ownership, the club have furiously churned through managers, including some of the most respected names in the game and despite turning in some decent performances in the league they have come no closer to winning Ligue 1 or even the Coupe de France.

After the ugly training ground invasion last year, the dramatic departure of Jorge Sampaoli this summer and their wretched displays in pre-season, last season’s second-place in Ligue 1 was in danger of being ignored.

Then there are their various missteps in Europe. Marseille had an admirable run to the Europa Conference League semi-finals last season, but were in that competition because they came third in their Europa League group. They reached the Europa League final in 2018, then finished bottom of their group the following season. They also have an ignominious recent record in the Champions League, where they have lost 13 matches in a row.

Marseille are the best supported team in France and the Stade Vélodrome is one of the country’s most intimidating atmospheres – a strong Marseille is good for Ligue 1. But the wheels looked to be coming off again after Sampaoli’s abrupt departure in July. The club replaced him with Croatian Igor Tudor, who impressed with Hellas Verona last season, but had a mixed record at previous clubs.

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Tudor was a curious choice and the club’s transfer strategy also looked odd. Gone were the versatile trio of Boubacar Kamara, William Saliba and Luan Peres – all linchpins under Sampaoli and able to cover multiple positions – and in came veterans with little or no resale value.

By signing Chancel Mbemba, Eric Bailly, Alexis Sánchez and Jordan Veretout, it seemed the club’s sporting director and president, Pablo Longoria, was trying to build a Premier League side circa 2017 rather than recruit the best of France’s deep pool of talented youngsters. Indeed, after the departure of Kamara, there are no academy graduates among the first-team regulars.

They have signed some young players, such as Matteo Guendouzi and Isaak Touré, but the lack of resale value for their biggest signings is worrying given the club’s financial situation.

The team’s pre-season form was disastrous, with humbling defeats by Norwich and Middlesbrough culminating in a thrashing at the hands of Milan at the Vélodrome a week before the season started.

A 4-1 win against Reims on the opening weekend was an improvement, but the opposition were clearly struggling to adapt to their new goalkeeper, Patrick Pentz. When Marseille could only draw away at Brest in their second match of the season, the worry deepened. Tudor seemed keen to use the influential Dimitri Payet from the bench, which left Arkadiusz Milik, who had been so prolific last season, starved of service.

Even though Marseille scraped a win against Nantes thanks to a late own goal from Nicolas Pallois, they were not playing well and did not look ready for a return to the Champions League. Their trip to old rivals Nice looked daunting, especially when Milik joined Juventus, leaving Marseille with Sánchez and the Colombian forward Luis Suárez as their only options in attack.

But rather than stumble, Marseille ran out comprehensive 3-0 winners, with the Chilean scoring twice in the first half . Sánchez will be 34 in December, so will not be able to start every match, but he looks as motivated and fit as at any point since his spell at Arsenal. In a league that has taken on an increasingly attacking tenor this season, his mobility and incision could be very effective off the bench.

The former Arsenal forward Alexis Sánchez is on form for Marseille.
The former Arsenal forward Alexis Sánchez is on form for Marseille. Photograph: Nicolas Tucat/AFP/Getty Images

Having started slowly, Marseille are now on a run. Their 1-0 win over Clermont on Wednesday keeps them level on points with PSG and Lens at the top. The scoreline does not tell the story of the match. Marseille battered the visitors’ goal, hitting the woodwork three times. They could easily have scored five.

With Payet back in the side they were purring and the wing-backs, Nuno Tavares (who has impressed this season) and Jonathan Clauss, driving the team’s attack.

Stiffer tests will come for Marseille and the strain of a compressed Champions League group stage will be a stretch for players such as Sánchez and Payet but, given how shaky the team looked a month ago, 13 points from five matches is a wonderful return.

A far cry from the hammer-and-tongs approach favoured by Sampaoli, Tudor’s sides exude a dynamism that encourages an attacking approach from every player – witness the runs of Gigot and Mbemba against Clermont. With Sánchez, Suarez or both of them as poachers, they will carry a threat going forward. They have also been given one of the kindest Champions League draws the club could have hoped for as a fourth seed. It may not be a return to the glory days of a decade ago, but Marseille will be worth watching this season.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results

Show

Angers 2-4 Reims

Lyon 2-1 Auxerre

Monaco 2-4 Troyes

Montpellier 2-0 Ajaccio

Strasbourg 1-1 Nantes

Lille 1-2 Nice

Marseille 1-0 Clermont

Lens 5-2 Lorient

Rennes 3-1 Brest

Toulouse 0-3 PSG 

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Talking points

Montpellier players Arnaud Nordin, Falaye Sacko and Faitout Maouassa celebrate a goal during their 2-0 win over Ajaccio.
Montpellier’s Arnaud Nordin, Falaye Sacko and Faitout Maouassa celebrate a goal during their 2-0 win over Ajaccio. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images

Will Montpellier be one of the league’s quiet surprises this year? A few days after shellacking Brest 7-0, they turned in another strong display to beat Ajaccio 2-0. The Corsican side are no great shakes, but it was another impressive win for Montpellier, who were without Téji Savanier, Stephy Mavididi and Wahbi Khazri. They have a long way to go to sustain a European challenge but after taking a step back last season after the departures of Andy Delort and Gaëtan Laborde Olivier Dall’Oglio’s methods look to be taking hold – only PSG have scored more goals in the league this season.

Monaco slumped to another defeat against Troyes, losing 4-2 after Guillermo Maripán was sent off. The decisions against the Chile centre-back were somewhat harsh, but Monaco cannot afford to drop many more points in light of the strong starts being made by Lyon, Marseille, Lens and others. They will be without Kevin Volland for a month and his versatility and application will be sorely missed as they juggle European and league action.

Finally, a word on Lyon. After a frustrating draw against Reims at the weekend, they kept up their perfect home record with a 2-1 win over Auxerre on Wednesday. There were some nervy moments and they will dearly miss the creativity of Lucas Paquetá, but this team has a resilience that was lacking at times last season. Their combative character and the sparkling form of Rayan Cherki – who has two assists in two appearances off the bench – should continue to give fans plenty to cheer about despite the loss of their Brazilian talisman.

This is an article from Get French Football News
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