Athletic Bilbao v Marseille: Europa League Preview
After the first leg of the first knock-out round, despite very different home results, both French teams have managed to set up tricky propositions for themselves in their respective away trips. OM have to win in Bilbao after losing 1-0 at the Velodrome.
Marseille come into this game off the back of a 1-1 draw in the league in which they went down to ten men for the last half-hour. Saint-Etienne got a late goal from their only shot on target (out of fifteen in total…) and Michy Batshuayi got an injury-time equaliser after coming on as a substitute. OM’s long run without a home win in the league continues, but the level of fight shown to get back in it for a draw was commendable.
Athletic Bilbao v Marseille – 18.00 GMT
Conceding a wonder goal such as Aritz Aduriz’ long-distance lob early in the second half can happen to anyone – Marseille’s problem was that their possession was mostly sterile and they failed to put any clear-cut chances together until the match was an hour old and they were already chasing the game. Having started with Steven Fletcher, Michel reacted to the visitors’ goal by bringing on Batshuayi and Florian Thauvin for the underwhelming Romain Alessandrini and Abdelaziz Barrada, and later taking off Georges-Kevin Nkoudou for Bouna Sarr, but it was in vain.
For Athletic Club, Beñat Etxebarria is suspended after picking up a pointless booking in injury time in the first leg, and Inaki Williams is out with an ankle injury, but Aduriz is apparently in the squad after being uncertain during the week. Meanwhile, OM see the return of Benjamin Mendy after a long absence through injury and while Brice Dja Djedje is still out, otherwise have a pretty full squad.
This will be a challenge, but the focus on OM’s difficult home form has detracted from the fact that they travel well – third in the exterieur table for Ligue 1 behind only PSG and Monaco, and with two away wins in the group stage. With signs that Fletcher is bedding in well at his new club, and that confidence-boosting goal for Batshuayi against Saint-Etienne on Sunday, they should score – and if Aduriz is not 100% and Williams is out, Bilbao’s attacking options will be compromised.
The defence needs to keep their head to allow the attack as much support as possible if they take a while to get going, and again Steve Mandanda will be a key man – particularly as there is a very real possibility of this going to penalties.
OM squad : Pele, Mandanda, Escales – Manquillo, Nkoulou, Rekik, Rolando, Sparagna, Mendy, de Ceglie – Diarra, Alessandrini, Cabella, Sarr, Isla, Barrada, Romao – Fletcher Nkoudou, Batshuayi, Thauvin, Rabillard