Marseille with Saint-Etienne in sights
By I. Holyman
Olympique de Marseille’s red-hot attack face the daunting prospect of a trip to rejuvenated AS Saint-Etienne as they attempt to defend their hold on second place in the table on Friday.
AS Saint-Etienne – Olympique de Marseille
Rudi Garcia’s side have moved into pole position behind Ligue 1 Conforama leaders Paris Saint-Germain — a point clear of AS Monaco and three ahead of Olympique Lyonnais — thanks to an exceptional run of good form that has seen them win all but one of their eight competitive fixtures in an unbeaten start to 2018.
OM have kept six clean sheets in that run, but it is their awesome attacking strength that has come to the fore in recent outings. FC Metz were swept aside 6-3 in last weekend’s league game while second division outfit Bourg-en-Bresse were on the wrong and painful end of a 9-0 schooling in midweek, a game that included hat-tricks for Lucas Ocampos and Kostas Mitroglou.
Those wins were the first time Marseille have scored six goals or more in consecutive games since 1948, and an indication of just how impressive Garcia’s men have been going forward this season. And their Coupe de France win was achieved without their star man in the final third this season, Florian Thauvin.
WATCH: Marseille take apart Metz
“Scoring 15 goals in two games hasn’t happened often to me in my career,” OM forward Clinton Njie noted in Thursday’s pre-match press conference. “We have to keep going like that. We have started our games very well, and we’re following the coach’s instructions to the latter. We’re also learning from our past mistakes. We are also benefitting from our winter training camp. In our squad, the forwards are complementary. That helps.”
Though Marseille have traditionally struggled at the Stade Geoffrey-Guichard winning just eight times in 52 trips, the visitors from the Mediterranean coast have lost just twice in their last ten games at Le Chaudron (The Cauldron), and their current form suggests they have a good chance of improving that record.
Njie: ‘Maintain our momentum’
But Saint-Etienne are not the same proposition they were a month ago when everything was going wrong for the record ten-time French champions. Since, proven talent in the shape of France internationals Yann M’Vila, Mathieu Debuchy and Paul-Georges Ntep has arrived along with classy centre-back Neven Subotic from Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s not the same team as in the first game,” Njie noted, referring to Marseille’s 3-0 win when the pair met at the Stade Orange Vélodrome two weeks before Christmas. “They have strengthened during the transfer window and they have more confidence. We’re second and we’re going to try and maintain our momentum. We’re going there for the three points.”
Saint-Etienne will have the same ambition after scoring a second successive league win with last weekend’s 2-0 triumph at Amiens SC.
WATCH: Debuchy scores on Saint-Etienne debut
“It was my first match and the rest of the squad have only been playing together for two or three matches, but the coach set out the instructions and us players discussed things well,” said Debuchy, who scored a debut goal.
“If we continue like that we will be able to achieve great things, but we must not get carried away. We have a great match ahead of us on Friday.”
With his team just four points clear of the relegation/promotion play-off spot and only one marker further ahead of an automatic relegation slot, highly ex-experienced boss Jean-Louis Gasset is unlikely to allow his players to develop any sort of superiority complex.
The former Girondins de Bordeaux, France and Paris Saint-Germain assistant coach noted the more expansive game his side put in place at Amiens may not be the right strategy to combat Marseille’s firepower.
“Everyone in the squad was determined to win tonight. We played very well in the first half. We created chances and we looked confident. That is what I try to instil in the players. It bodes well for the rest of the season,” Gasset explained. “Maybe when we play against slightly more glamorous teams we will need to play differently because we will probably not have so much possession.”
Saint-Etienne: to follow
Marseille: to follow