The Last French Bastion


Posted by Radu M. Pandea

Posted in Football / UEFA News


Champions League Preview: FC Bayern Munich vs. Olympique Marseille

UEFA Champions League Scoreboard

March 28 – When the draw for this stage of the Champions League was made, the FCB family was hoping to avoid a meeting with another FCB, the Catalan giants from Barcelona.  From the pot, Olympique Marseille popped out for Jupp Heynckes’s men, a team which has a vast history full of ups-and-downs, battled their way back to the top and now searching for the lost European glory.  They are the last French side involved in European competitions this season.

“Les Olympiens” were founded more than 100 years ago, in the same year as the reigning Champions of the competition, FC Barcelona.  Since 1899, the team from the south coast of France collected nine domestic titles, ten French cups and two league cups, and the first trophy of the Champions League after the restructuring of the former European Champions Cup.  The team that day included famous names like Fabien Barthez (youngest goalkeeper to win the trophy until Ilker Casillas), Jocelyn Angloma, Marcel Desailly, Alen Boksic, Rudi Völler and the current coach, Didier Deschamps, the youngest player to captain a winning side.

This trophy remains the only Champions League/European Champions Cup won by a French team.  There were many people contesting the integrity of the campaign as Marseille was involved in a match fixing scandal.  The president of the team Bernard Tapie was involved in the “l’affaire VA-OM” because his unmoral moves which were disclosed by three players of Valenciennes-Anzin team.  The punishment was severe for OM, their 1992 league title being erased, the team was sent to the second league and stripped of the chance to defend their title, or play the European Supercup or the Intercontinental Cup.

Since that Champions League win, Marseille suffered through some tough years.  Things started to get better when they made it to the UEFA Cup Final in 1994, only to lose against Valencia.  They finally ended 17 years without a trophy with a League Cup win against Bordeaux with 3-1 win in 2010, and then two months later they were champions of Ligue 1, with two games to spare.  The man behind this comeback is Didier Deschamps, the former defensive midfielder who returned to the club as coach after leaving as player in 1994 for a long spell in Italy.  He made the fans happy from the beginning of his tenure, bringing two trophies in his first season, building a very strong team that defeated Olympique Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain during the campaign for the trophy.

This season is not one of their best, even if OM is set for another League Cup Final on the 14th of April against Lyon, the team is struggling in the league.   Since the first leg win against Inter Milan in the Last 16 round of the Champions League, Marseille has a seven game losing streak in all competitions, ended only with a draw last weekend at Nice, 1-1.  They are already out of the French Cup after a shameful defeat in the quarterfinals at the hands of Quevilly, an amateur team from the fourth tier of the French Football League system.

This tough ride downwards left Deschamps’s team sitting 9th in the league table, ten points from the last Champions League spot.  This won’t matter before the game against Bayern.  In the Champions League this season, Marseille has already collected some important victims.  Along with Inter who won the tournament two years ago, they also eliminated the reigning German champions Borussia Dortmund after the group stage (two wins, 3-0 at home, 3-2 at Signal Iduna Park).

Olympique Marseille usually plays a 4-2-3-1 formation, with a strong right wing where Cesar Azpilicueta and Morgan Amalfitano, a solid collaboration which works perfectly in some games.  Andre Ayew is responsible for the pressure and speed on the left wing but he is a bit fragile at the moment, with tough shoulder problems but he will carry on until the end of the season, when he will undergo surgery.  They also have a strong centre, with two powerful defenders like Nicolas N’Kolou and Souleymane Diawara (suspended for the first leg game) and one rock hard defensive midfielder in the person of Alou DIarra.

Benoit Cheyrou is the experienced and creative man next to Diarra and he will try as always to establish a good run of play with the man behind the striker, the agile Mathieu Valbena, “le petit velo” (the small bike) being the engine of the team.  Up front, Deschamps tends to change depending on what his team is focusing on, mixing in the last period between Brandão, the man with the winning goal in stoppage time against Inter that put them through, and Loic Remy, a younger striker who puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenders.

For the first leg, OM will be without their captain, goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.  Gennaro Bracigliano was considered to be the first option to replace him in goal, as he did in the return leg of the tie with Inter, after Mandanda was sent off.  However Deschamps decided Elinton Andrade, his third choice for keeper, will be the one to stand in front of the Bavarian striking force.

It won’t be an easy game for Bayern, it is an opponent that they have never met in European competitions but the experience of meeting Olympique Lyonnais and Bordeaux in the 2009-10 season of the Champions League might come in handy to be familiar with the determination and psychological fragility of the French sides.  If FCB manages to draw first blood then the path will become easier.

But Marseille is a fighting team, scoring against Inter right before the final whistle of both matches.  Bayern’s fitness and concentration needs to be at the highest levels because the French side can out-power them in the midfield but the main battle will be probably take place on the wings, where FCB excels with Arjen Robben and former Marseille player Franck Ribéry.

The Frenchman is coming back to a special place for him, his career being sparked by his two-year spell with OM, his wish of meeting them in this stage of the competition coming true.  He even declared that it’s going to be an emotional game for him, the French press following his every move and asking where his loyalties lie.  But in the end he remains a professional footballer by putting things in place by declaring that he plays for Bayern now, and that his team needs to win.

UEFA Champions League – Quarterfinals

at APOEL FC (CYP) 0-3 Real Madrid CF (SPA), return match April 4 in Madrid
at SL Benfica (POR) 0-1 Chelsea FC (ENG), return match April 4 in London
at Olympique Marseille (FRA) vs. FC Bayern Munich (GER), return match April 3 in Munich
at AC Milan (ITA) vs. FC Barcelona (SPA), return match April 3 in Barcelona


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