Kevin Galvin assesses a tumultuous week for Marseille, who, after the unsavoury events vs Lyon, failed to beat Toulouse in mid-week and suffered a shock home defeat at the hand of Angers yesterday.
It’s 2:45pm local time and the eerie silence has just been severed by the piercing sounds of whistles on the South coast of France. With two stands closed off by the LFP, and the other two half-empty, le Vel’ has barely looked sadder in its 80 year history.
The whistles in the stands follow that of the match’s referee, Mikael Lesage, who has just signalled the end of Olympique Marseille’s latest disappointment in Ligue 1. The Phoceéns, who have lost the core of their side, their manager, their Ultras, and their fourth game in eight, now find themselves in 14th position after one of their worst ever starts in the top division.
It has been a pretty tough 10 days for all those involved at the club, in a season full of disappointments so far; poor results against Toulouse and now Angers followed a 1-1 draw against Lyon, in a game where its antics did more to damage the club than the point gained could ever repay.
More worrying however for the Phocéens, were the limp and insipid displays that followed on the pitch against Toulouse, and then on Sunday against newly promoted Angers. Fingers have been pointed squarely at Vincent Labrune, and rather unfairly in my opinion at Michel, come in to right a listing ship, but in truth much of the blame must lie with the players themselves.
Take the case of Remy Cabella; the 25 year-old had already won a Ligue 1 title with Montpellier, and signed a six-year deal with Newcastle United in 2014 and was expected to do great things on Tyneside.
However, in reality the midfielder was largely disappointing, and with only one goal and two assists in 31 appearances, the Toon were only delighted to ship him back out on loan, and welcome Florian Thauvin, another risk, but a man who nevertheless is arguably better suited to Premier League life.
Cabella’s was, on paper, Marseille’s biggest signing in the summer (although Lassana Diarra is now making a strong case for himself), and it was hoped that the French international would at least partly make up for the losses of Dimitri Payet, and the aforementioned Thauvin; yet nothing could have been further from the truth.
Cabella has done virtually nothing positive to contribute since he has arrived at Marseille; six games, zero assists, zero goals. As a matter of fact, the only number to his name has been the two yellow cards that he has picked up, and the consistent low scores that he has been receiving in terms of player ratings in the French media.
Conversely, the Corsican native has contributed directly to Marseille’s last two disappointing results, missing a sitter against Toulouse on Wednesday, and committing a criminal foul for Angers’ penalty on Sunday.
Angevian left-back Arnold Bouka Moutou’s run down the flank was threatening, but Manquillo had come across the cover, and with the visiting defender facing away from goal it seemed like the situation had been contained.
That was, until, Rémy arrived, scything through the back of Moutou and changing the game. Having dominated the early exchanges and out-shooting their opponents 5 to 1, OM were now a goal behind and chasing the game in the second-half.
Cabella himself admitted his own poor form after the game in Toulouse, and perhaps his rashness in Sunday’s game was an over-zealous attempt to put things right; however as a now seasoned professional that expected level of maturity has been badly lacking thus far. It also must be said that the former Gazélec Ajaccio youngster is not the only expected leader on the pitch who has failed to show the way.
Going through the squad; N’Koulou, De Ceglie, Dja Djé Djé, all players on Sunday who you’d expect to galvanise the side following the penalty, and all players who where nowhere to be found as Olympique’s lack of backbone was plain to see.
Romain Alessandini was watching from the stands, still suspended after a needless sending off for a brainless tackle on super-villain Valbuena the week before. Lucas Ocampos summed it up in the final moments; caught in possession dawdling with four team-mates unmarked in the area, the chorus of whistles were frankly merited.
It comes as no great surprise, however, as Marseille try to deal with the gutting of their side in the off-season, and though it’s still early, Michel will almost certainly have to target the next transfer window to make up for the trail of destruction left behind by Marcelo Bielsa’s departure.
Key players in key positions have not been adequately replaced, and the new players are trying to stamp their authority under extreme pressure, as the older heads, Steve Mandanda to name one, try to hold everything together.
Will things get better for Les Phocéens? Possibly. But with a trip to Paris on Sunday to face a supremely confident PSG, things are very likely to get a whole lot worse beforehand.