Europa League Play-Off : NK Domzale v Olympique Marseille
Marseille continue their European campaign with a 1,000km trip* to Ljubljana to face Slovenian cup-winners NK Domzale in the first leg of the play-offs, in fairly sprightly mood. Beating Belgium’s Oostende 4-2 on aggregate in the 3rd qualifying round was pleasing enough, but seeing new acquisition Valere Germain score a hat-trick on his debut in the home tie was even more so, and the other new arrivals, Luiz Gustavo in midfield, and Adil Rami in defence, are also bedding in nicely.
In the league they have two wins and two clean sheets, with a Clinton N’Jie brace in the opening 3-0 win over Dijon (Thauvin with the other) and a late goal from the returning Lucas Ocampos (‘s hand) sealing the deal away at Nantes. Returning hero Steve Mandanda is back in goal, and did good work in the goalless second leg against Oostende as well. The window is not yet done but with Jordan Amavi also in on loan to challenge Patrice Evra for the left-back role, and rumours of more business to come, things are looking positive.
OM need to be careful not to be complacent about this before hosting Angers on Sunday, as while NK Domzale may not be big names on the European stage, they have also been bedding in some new players to good effect after several more games in their season so far. Starting in the first qualifying round, they have seen off FC Flora Talinn 5-2 and Valur Reykjavik 5-3 on aggregate before a tighter 2-1 tie against SC Freiburg in the last round. New attacking midfielder Senijad Ibricic scored four goals over those six games, while right-winger Petar Franjic has the same in four games in the league, and young left-back Jure Balcovec has two.
Domzale’s home stadium capacity is small (c.3000) so they are borrowing the nearby Stozice Stadium for this as they attempt to reach the group stage for the first time ever. They have done their research, manager Simon Rozman apparently present for the game against Nantes, talking up the spirit of his group, and the need for staunch support in the first leg – backed up by his appropriately named striker Ivan Firer (two goals so far), who added “we all have two legs, we are all human, and on the field, both teams have eleven footballers”.
Given the success of his substitutions in recent weeks, Rudi Garcia may have been tempted to change things up a little in any event – but his hand has been forced a little with two key absences. Dimitri Payet is still out after his hamstring strain against Dijon, but with several wing-shaped options in the squad who have already shown their worth, this should be a manageable situation; more concerning is the absence of Rolando from central defence, injured against Nantes, but Thomas Hubocan will likely fill in there.
This should be a fairly straightforward challenge for OM, but they will need to keep their concentration as Domzale have a good home record and a variety of players who can pose a goal threat. Garcia’s starting eleven will be instructive – maybe a chance for Amavi to get his first start, as well as the other changes – as they look for a good result to take back to the Velodrome next week.
Mandanda, Pele, Escales – Sakai, Doria, Kamara, Hubocan, Rami, Evra, Amavi – Cabella, Sanson, Gustavo, Sertic, Lopez, Zambo Anguissa – Ocampos, N’Jie, Sarr, Thauvin, Germain
*It’s not actually that far, about the same distance as to Lille in J11, but it’s the Europa League, so we’re contractually obliged to mention it.