Europa Preview : Olympique Marseille v Konyaspor
All is not well at the Velodrome, after a catastrophic 6-1 defeat away to Monaco was followed after the international break by a 3-1 defeat at home to Rennes. Sunday’s match saw the visitors score twice in the first ten minutes, the home team being whistled off the pitch by their supporters, and pointed banners in the stands aimed at President Jacques-Henri Eyraud, demanding an end to “false promises and dubious explanations”.
What the team – and the fans – could really do with now is a comprehensive victory, to calm everything down a little. And they couldn’t ask for a much better fixture to kick off their Europa campaign proper – at home, against the lowest-ranked team in Group I, whose first taste of European competition was last season as they picked up a solitary point in a group with Shakhtar Donetsk, Braga and Gent. And Konyaspor’s current season isn’t going swimmingly either: the Turkish Cup winners beat Besiktas 2-1 in the Supercup, but have had less success in the Super Lig, sitting fourteenth after four games with only three points on the board.
Marseille are therefore heavy favourites to win this, at indicative odds of 3/10, and by a decent margin in what could be a high-scoring game, with over 3.5 goals around 3/2. Whether this is a positive to get them rolling again, or further pressure on a group of players who frequently don’t seem to have met before, is the question. Trying to predict exactly what will happen next is a risky business but UK bookmakers will have odds available.
After recent setbacks, the feeling is that Rudi Garcia has to do something. Garcia may be betting on his attack pulling themselves together – the OM MO is to have more possession, including a high of 65% against Rennes, but after their opener against Dijon they have struggled to do much with it. While captain Dimitri Payet may be musing philosophically that what happened, happened, new acquisition Kostas Mitroglou is injured, and Remy Cabella has left on loan, Valere Germain at least looks like this situation is annoying him.
At the other end of the pitch, fixing the defence will presumably be the priority – in both the last two matches they conceded from 3/4 of the shots on target. However, the manager’s decisions here have not engendered confidence – as was seen against Rennes when arguably the least culpable member of the back four, Hiroki Sakai, was replaced by Bouna Sarr (not a rightback) in the first half, and later a hobbling Aymen Abdennour was replaced like-for-like by Rolando, when dropping Gregory Sertic back and bringing on an attacker to try to put a dent in the deficit would at least have shown a will to do something. It’s a good bet that the 5-man defensive experiment against Monaco won’t be back, but there will be yet more moving around in this area, with the absences through injury of Steve Mandanda and Abdennour.
The visitors may therefore not look that frightening, but OM have the air of being easily rattled at the moment. Particularly putting their leftback issues into sharp focus is the fact that half of Konyaspor’s half-dozen goals so far have come from Slovenian international rightback Nejc Skubic. Elsewhere new recuit Musa Araz in central midfield has two, (briefly) ex-Lorient attacker Moryke Fofana the other, and they also have former Gabon international Malick Evouna in on loan from Tianjin Teda.
What should be a straightforward home win could be impacted by two things – the overall mood of the group, and Garcia’s starting selection. Luiz Gustavo will be available, which should help, ditto Lucas Ocampos, which might not. With the Virage Nord shut due to fears of a low turn-out, it could be a strange atmosphere at the Velodrome for this match. Hopefully there will be a good result to calm the nerves.
Squad : Pele, Escales – Sakai, Kamara, Rolando, Amavi, Evra, Rami – Sanson, Gustavo, Sertic, Lopez, Zambo Anguissa – Ocampos, Payet, Njie, Sarr, Thauvin, Germain