TALKING POINTS: Week 35: Marseille turn to Gignac to do the impossible

You are reading the Get French Football News Talking Points column, written by Eric Devin.

While Marseille had the advantage of starting the weekend’s matches with the opportunity to put pressure on their fellow opponents, a feisty Metz side were never going to provide Les Phoceens with the easiest competition, fighting for their Ligue 1 survival.

Losers of four in a row and battling for their European chances after a disastrous April, Marcelo Bielsa’s men had recently welcomed Nicholas N’Koulou back to the fold, but were missing attack-minded defenders Jeremy Morel and Brice Dja Djedje. With Rod Fanni partnering N’Koulou in central defence and Mario Lemina deputising at right back, the match marked yet another makeshift back four from the manager, presenting Les Grenats with an opportunity to continue their recent up-turn in form.  

Metz did indeed start the brighter, creating a flurry of chances at the outset, and once could almost sense the tension among the visitors, the knowledge that anything less than three points here would be disastrous. The match settled soon thereafter, Marseille creating more chances and beginning if not to take control to at least place themselves on level footing with their hosts. When their breakthrough on 38 minutes came, it was, to be charitable, a bit of a fluke, as Metz ‘keeper Anthony Mfa collided with Jose Palomino in a slice of costly miscommunication, the former having claimed the ball from a corner but losing it in falling over his defender.

Even with their lead down to happenstance, the identity of Marseille’s scorer was no surprise, their burly forward knocking the ball in with an acrobatic half-turn that belied his size. Andre-Pierre Gignac has never been the most consistent of performers, but when on song, he can be a real handful and seemed in the mood on the night, his goal only one of many instances in his grabbing the match by the scruff of the neck. 

The bulky striker had started things off by giving Marseille their first real opportunity on 25 minutes, deftly knocking down a high ball and laying it off for Gianelli Imbula, whose shot was smartly saved by Mfa. Never the most adept of passers, the awareness, creativity and technique on Gignac’s part to bring down the ball, fake a shot then and flick it back to the onrushing midfielder was mightily impressive.

The goal as well, was remarkable for the deftness of his first touch, just barely tipping it away from Metz’s defence to give himself time to swivel around the ball and fire it home. With his side’s nerves somewhat settled by the goal, Gignac continued to ratchet up the pressure, delivering a lovely ball in to the far post from the right early in the second half, Andre Ayew failing to turn the ball past Mfa.

Averaging just 0.6 key passes and 0.1 crosses per match this season, we were really seeing something special from Gignac, who capped the evening with a delightful back-heel flick to Dimitri Payet, who obliged the striker with a lovely through ball to give the striker only his second goal since his brace against Paris Saint-Germain last month. 

While it would be foolish given Gignac’s general inconsistency to expect this kind of performance from him every week, the urgency with which he played is of the type Marseille will desperately need come Sunday’s massive clash with Monaco. With three points again imperative in passing up the principality club for third, if Marseille are going to continue to put in stuttering team performances, (as they generally did on Friday) it will be down to individuals to drag them over the line.

Dimitri Payet showed this type of flash against PSG and Andre Ayew has demonstrated it as well this season. While football is a team game, the lack of cohesion that Marseille have exhibited in the run-in means that it just may take a few more superb individual performances for the side to get the results which they seek. Never the easiest thing on which to rely, it will at the very least make for some entertaining football. 

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