Coupe de France 32emes : Olympique Marseille v Valenciennes
Marseille encounter old foes Valenciennes in the first weekend of 2018 as part of the round of 64 in the Coupe de France. On the first anniversary of Frank McCourt’s first transfer window as the figurehead of the club – in which the likes of Dimitri Payet and Morgan Sanson were signed, question marks still remain regarding the direction OM are heading in.
They are there, or thereabouts, it seems. Fourth in Ligue 1 at the close of the winter break, and only three points behind AS Monaco in second place, they are regarded by many pundits as being exactly where they should be. However, the predictability of falling mute at bigger rivals while also seemingly self-destructing in the domestic cups has left a sort of hollow ring to Marseille’s fledgling season.
It’ll be nearly 30 years since OM’s last Coupe de France triumph. Since 1989, they’ve reached the final only a handful of times – most recently in 2016. Moreover, PSG have since surpassed them – the previous record of 10 now eclipsed by their bitter rivals from the capital.
This season, OM have taken their non-Ligue 1 duties with what can only be described as nonchalance. A paltry two wins in the Europa League in a group consisting of Konyaspor, RB Salzburg and Vitoria Guimaraes saw them squeak into the next round – while they had a better showing against Rennes in the Coupe de la Ligue, only going down on penalties in a controversial match.
How will OM approach this Coupe de France campaign? It’s hard to say for a club that so often blows hot or cold. It’s either that they reach the final or bow out in the early rounds. For example, last season saw two impressive wins away to Toulouse and at home to Lyon, before departing to a 3-4 extra-time defeat to Monaco at Stade Vélodrome.
And there’s nothing to suggest that Rudi Garcia will continue to field a second-string side in this competition. Sunday’s tie is the best opportunity to test those who’ve had a disappointing first half of the season – namely Aymen Abdennour and Kostas Mitroglou, among the likes of Clinton Njie, Maxime Lopez and Doria who have enjoyed little playing time.
Valenciennes meanwhile come into the tie on rocky form – with only one win in their last four league games. The winter break was preceded by a 5-1 thumping by Reims – though they did conduct themselves impressively in the Coupe de la Ligue – taking Marcelo Bielsa’s beleaguered Lille side all the way on penalties before being dismissed.
The plucky northern outfit are capable of plundering in plenty of goals – but are equally inefficient in defence. They’ve strengthened already in the winter market by signing Saliou Ciss and Mehdi Tahrat from Ligue 1 side Angers.
In the end however, it should be a simple procession for OM in a rather favourable January schedule that should recalibrate them into potential podium finishers. The Marseillais would love a trophy, with nearly 6 years passing since silverware was won at the Vélodrome. The first step would be to take Valenciennes seriously.