There have been numerous dark days in the history of Olympique Marseille, with the club placed in liquidation in 1981 and bribery scandal in 1993 that not only resulted in the league title being taken away from them, but also demotion to the second division and ban from participating in European competitions. The multi-billion Euro takeover at hated rivals Paris Saint-Germain in 2011 also changed the entire dynamics of Ligue 1 and left Marseille struggling to provide any sort of meaningful competition.
While unsavoury incidents continue to tarnish the club’s name off the pitch, the arrival of tactical mastermind Marcelo Bielsa as manager has transformed Marseille on the pitch. They continue to set the pace at the top of Ligue 1 and have shown signs that the sleeping giants in France have finally awoken to overthrow PSG’s dominance. The upcoming trip to Monaco provides another stern test of their title credentials, but league form would indicate that Marseille have the impetus to record what could prove to be a crucial victory.
Marseille’s superb start to the season has undoubtedly been masterminded single-handedly by one man – Bielsa. Although the 59-year-old is one of the strictest managers in world football and places considerable demand on his players through extreme training regime, Bielsa is proven in getting the very best from his team and playing the style of football that is not only eye-catching, but also effective. His demand for a high work ethic fits in with the ethos of Marseille whose never-say-die attitude brought them considerable success in the past, and early signs under Bielsa appear hugely promising. Eight consecutive Ligue 1 victories between August and October not only equalled a club record, but also made a real statement of intent that Marseille mean business. They will, however, have to improve on their away form if they are to find a way past Monaco; the 2-1 win at Caen in early October was the last time Marseille have won away from the Stade Velodrome, with defeat at Lyon and PSG preventing Bielsa’s side from establishing a commanding lead at the top. It may come down to Ligue 1’s top goalscorer, Andre-Pierre Gignac, to continue his excellent start to the season, while Andre Ayew has also found form in front of goal and could be the game winner if Marseille continue to keep it tight in defence.
Substance over style has become the order of the day for Monaco whose extravagant spending days and marquee signings appear to be over. A number of loan signings perfectly illustrates a change in direction for the French Principality club, but they remain a strong side who is more than capable of mixing it with the big boys. Losing James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao during the summer would be a body blow for any club in world football, and Leonardo Jardim’s slow start to life as Monaco’s new manager did little to appease growing concerns that the dream of becoming an elite Ligue 1 club had dramatically unravelled in front of their eyes. Three consecutive 2-0 victories, which included a crucial win against Zenit that meant Monaco topped their Champions League group and qualified for the last 16, indicates that Jardim has finally found the right balance and style of play; this is in stark contrast to the poor form endured during the whole of October and November when Monaco failed to find any sort of consistency or rhythm, and only won 3 games in all competitions. Monaco possess a number of highly-talented prospect in the shape of Fabinho, Layvin Kurzawa, Bernardo Silva and Geoffrey Kondogbia, but Joao Moutinho and Dimitar Berbatov are undoubtedly Monaco’s standout players. The latter is Monaco’s top scorer with 5 goals, but their lack of goals – 21 from 17 Ligue 1 games – is a clear sign that they sorely miss the presence of James and Falcao. They can, however, point to strong form at the Stade Louis II as an indication that Marseille will not have it their own way, with Nice the last team to walk away with all three points in late September.