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Marseille's title bid hits a stumbling block

The beginning of a bad evening at Brittany.
The beginning of a bad evening at Brittany.
ANALYST
Modified 22 Dec 2020, 18:30 IST
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Olympique de Marseille had a chance to go to the top of the Ligue 1 table by Christmas, but they bottled it as they have many times this season. They were fourth with 27 points after 12 games, just a few points behind then-leaders Lille. With two games in hand, it was the perfect time to make a statement that they were in the title race.

However, things looked grim after their away defeat to Stade Rennes. Marseille made a dismal start to the game as Jordan Amavi injured his calf with less than twenty minutes on the clock. He was replaced by Japanese wingback Yugo Nagamato.

Despite giving Marseille the lead at the Brittany Stadium, midfielder Papa Gueye received a red card for elbowing Rennes forward M'Baye Niang in an aerial duel as things started to go south.

A mistake from Borussia Dortmund loanee Leonardo Balerdi allowed Rennes to get back level. In the dying minutes of the game, Rennes pounced on ten-man Marseille to snatch a winner from Nayef Aguerd’s header.

Despite losing the full three points, Marseille could have made amends for the defeat; but they didn't take the opportunity. A lackluster performance at home against Stade de Reims only saw them climb back into the game to get a draw.

Jordan Amavi’s absence was noticeable as replacement Nagamto deflected a flying shot into his own goal. Marseille still had chances from Dario Benedetto and Dimitri Payet, but neither player could come up with finishes.

OM vs Reims: Thauvin to the rescue
OM vs Reims: Thauvin to the rescue

As has been a feature of Marseille’s results this season, they needed a fine piece of individual brilliance from winger Florian Thauvin drew them level. Despite being the best player in the side, Thauvin could not help his team get the three points as they had to settle for a draw.

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Things have gotten complicated for Marseille with those two results. They now trail leaders Lille by five points with two games in hand. However, this time around, Marseille has a tricky run of fixtures.

The games against Angers and RC Lens will undoubtedly be tougher than their previous two games. Both Lens and Angers are targeting top-half finishes, and given Marseille’s recent form, they will sense an opportunity to move up the table.

Both clubs are just four points behind the Phoceans, and the game against Angers will be an away fixture. Marseille's recent record against Angers has seen six draws in ten outings in Ligue 1, stretching back to the 2015/16 season. They will have to improve on this to stay in contention for the title.

Marseille’s over-reliance on Thauvin for goals has resulted in lackluster performances. Payet has failed to regain his form from last season and Dario Benedetto and Valerie Germain have not been scoring regularly. Villas-Boas’ men seem to have lost control of their destiny and need a win immediately.

Published 22 Dec 2020, 18:30 IST
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