Even though Marseille were able to outplay Auxerre at the Stade Velodrome, they were only able to gain one point at home, which pushed Lille back into first place. And even with the draw, OM has been able to show that they have no intention of making the Ligue 1 title an easy task for Lille.
At the start of the year, maybe people predicted Lille (along with Lyon) to take the title. And while Marseille did have an impressive team on paper, some experts wondered if last season’s success was due more to the under-performance of teams like Bordeaux and Lyon compared to the winning ways of OM.
But this year, Marseille are showing that last year wasn’t a fluke and that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Ligue 1 world. But what has made Marseille this new “quiet power” in the league?
First of all, they are all about winning. At the start of last season, everyone was talking about Marseille struggling. Bordeaux and Lyon looked to be on their way to Ligue 1 title glory, and OM, who spent tons of money on a new team, were kind of pushed to the side. But even with their lack of impressive play at the start of last year, they were able to win their matches. These “ugly wins” early in the season gave Marseille the points that they needed to make an impressive title run toward the end of the season. Eventually, OM were pulling away from the rest of the field like Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes (easily the best horse race in US history).
And again this year, OM has had a number of ugly wins. Ligue 1 observers were wondering if Marseille had what it takes to win the title. But just like the year before, these extra points which could have easily become draws have proven to be the buffer yet again between Marseille and the rest of the field, with the exception of Lille. Eleven of their Ligue 1 victories have been by a one-goal margin.
So why has Marseille been able to still remain a top football team in France with seemingly unimpressive wins this season? Lets go ahead and look at just a few of the things driving OM’s success.
First of all, one has to look at the coaching at Marseille. Didier Deschamps has had his share of critics this season. But to be fair, he does have the winning experience needed to bring titles to Marseille. And, so far, he has been far from disappointing. What more do you want from a coach? He has been there only two years, yet he has been able to nearly bring home all the goods. If OM wins the title this year, two league titles and two league cups in two years isn’t an unimpressive start.
But Deschamps skills go beyond his history. Unlike other coaches in the league, Deschamps is proving that he is more of a “manager” than someone who just selects eleven players and put them on the pitch. Rightfully, Lyon’s Claude Puel could be put in this class. And as the season wears on, one can easily see the difference between the Deschamps and Puel style of coaching, basically the fact that only one is an “actual coach”.
Another point that seems to have been forgotten about regarding Deschamps is the handling of off-field activities the last two seasons. During the winter transfer last season, there was a lot of talk of both Hatem Ben Arfa and Mathieu Valbuena leaving OM because of the lack of play. Instead of having this situation blow up into a Kombouare-Sessegnon type of situation, Deschamps was able to handle this situation in a professional way, leaving both players happy, at least until the end of the season.
In addition, have we heard much about Brandao in the last couple of weeks? Not only is OM’s current form helping, but Deschamps and the whole Marseille organization have done well recently dealing with “Brandaogate”, sending him on loan to Cruzeiro in Brazil.
Even with that being said, most people criticized Deschamps for sticking with Brandao. And as this criticism is completely fair (because Brandao has been far from an impressive player), Deschamps continues to show his football coaching skills by adapting to change. OM is a team that has had to deal with a number of player issues, most noticeably injuries. Some coaches, like Puel, seem to collapse when a few key players are out of the line up (using this past weekend’s lost to Toulouse as the perfect example). Deschamps, on the other hand, can easily adapt to the changes and still have a competitive team on the field each and every week. Yes, many people might have questioned Deschamps dressing Brandao when there were other options available up front. But once Brandao was out, DD was able to adapt well.
But, of course, coaching is just one part of it. The quality of players on the pitch is another part. But there is a third factor that people seem to forget that might be playing a more important part in OM’s winning ways…the Coupe de la Ligue.
Like we mentioned previously, OM didn’t start off last season in an impressive manner. Yet, they were still able to win the title by a healthy margin. So, where was the turning point? Many will point at the Coupe de la Ligue as the point where OM were able to get both the confidence and the theoretical “monkey off their back” to help them make that push for the league title in the final weeks. And with OM securing the Coupe de la Ligue yet againg this season (being the first team to ever win back-to-back League Cups), could this give OM the confidence boost they need to make their title chase repeat a reality?
Of course, Lille is their biggest threat to the title. But like with year’s past, Lille always seems to hit “a wall”, where they go from playing amazing to playing average. And while they usually hit this “wall” around the middle to last third of the season, they seem to be hitting it quite late this season. Some argue that they are hitting it now, as a 5-0 over Arles-Avignon isn’t enough proof to show that they are back. But with a harder season-ending schedule than both OM and Lyon, will Lille yet again slip and see themselves grab defeat out of the jaws of victory when it comes to the league title? Only the next few matches will tell.
Marseille do have the advantage now. Even with all the problems, injuries and off field issues that have gone on with the team, they have still been able to win both a League Cup and challenge in the closing weeks for the Ligue 1 title. Lille have been healthy most of the season and rarely have to deal with any off-field issues. Is this where OM’s title-winning experience prevails over Lille’s inexperience in winning? If that is the case, the French Cup final between Lille and PSG might be more important to Lille’s title hopes than many could have imagined. If they are able to defeat the defending French Cup champions, then Lille might just have the confidence they need to see the rest of the season through and secure their first championship since 1954.
But until that match at the Stade de France on May 14th, the advantage is with Marseille.