TRANSFER ANALYSIS | Marseille – OM may be in better hands than first feared

This is part of our 22/23 Ligue 1 Handbook, the ultimate guide to French Football – You can see our end of season predictions and read every team’s profile right here.

Key Man: Mattéo Guendouzi – Last year GFFN named Dimitri Payet as Marseille’s key player for the 21/22 season and, after he contributed to 22 Ligue 1 goals, it may come as a surprise that Mattéo Guendouzi has surpassed him as Les Phocéens’ key man. However, the 23-year-old played more league minutes for OM than anyone else bar his former Arsenal teammate, William Saliba, and 600 more than Payet, quickly establishing himself as a leading figure in the dressing room. Marseille president Pablo Longoria made the midfielder’s move permanent for £10m this summer, a steal considering the former PSG youngster contributed to 10 league goals and topped the squad for various metrics such as progressive passes per 90 according to FBRef. He played at both ends of midfield but excelled positioned closer to the attack. Payet will always provide his magic in big moments, despite a difficult start to his relationship with new coach Igor Tudor, and, in a squad that was the sixth youngest in France last season, the oldest player in the dressing room will need to continue providing leadership regardless. Guendouzi may lack Payet’s experience but his ego was well-directed by former coach Jorge Sampaoli and he also offers leadership and creativity that could help boost the attack under Tudor.

Signing To Watch: Jonathan Clauss – Linked to many clubs over the summer, right-wing-back Jonathan Clauss was somehow captured by Marseille for just €7.9m despite Transfermarkt valuing him at double that. Even a valuation of €15m feels too low for a player who finished 15th in Europe for assists with 11 in the league last season. The 29-year-old was also capped by France for the first-time in March after an endearing reaction to Didier Deschamps’ announcement was captured on film by his teammates. He has a real shot of starting at the World Cup in November and could benefit from the tactics under new coach Tudor, who inspired his first-choice wing-backs at Hellas Verona to 17 Serie A goals last season. With the speed, accurate crossing and underrated defending the Frenchman provides, Clauss’ stock looks set to continue rising in southern France.

Transfer Window Analysis – If last season’s summer transfer window was busy for Marseille, this year’s was frantic. It got off to a good start after a transfer ban imposed in January was postponed until at least October. Loans for Pau López and Cengiz Únder were made permanent while, although the club failed to retain William Saliba who returned to Arsenal, central defence was reinforced by young prospect Isaak Touré (19) from Le Havre as well as experienced heads Samuel Gigot and Chancel Mbemba, but that wasn’t enough to keep Sampaoil from resigning in frustration over the lack of ambition. After his departure and Tudor’s arrival, Pablo Longoria went into overdrive, signing forward Alexis Sánchez, centre-bacl Eric Bailly and loaning wing-back Nuno Tavares from Arsenal. The Arsenal defender has been brilliant so far, scoring three in his first four games. That has distracted from the messy deadline day saga surrounding striker Bamba Dieng, with the Senegalese seemingly staying for another year despite efforts to leave. Overall, they’re stronger now than at the start of the window but Tudor may lack a reliable sources of goals having lost Arkadiusz Milik to Juventus.

Strengths – Last season, neither Marseille’s attack or defence stood out amongst Europe’s big five leagues, but what mattered was their points haul. They finished 11th in the big five league table, and they only sacrificed a lead for a draw or a loss on four occasions. They were helped by their squad depth, which should serve them well in the Champions League. With the likes of Suárez, Sánchez and Cedric Bakambu ready to provide in attack in front of in-form Tavares and Clauss on the wings, OM are well armed to better their 63 goal tally of last season.

Weaknesses – After a second placed finish, Marseille looked to have finally got past the turbulent final days of Andre Villas-Boas’ reign and accompanying training ground invasions by ultras. In Sampaoli, they had a chaotic coach who embodied the spirit of the club and built a squad that, bar a few bumps, seemed harmonious. The enforced change of coach dramatically raised tensions, however, especially with the disastrous Champions League campaign of 2020/21 in mind, when they finished bottom of their group. Om fans booing on the opening day of the Ligue 1 season hardly helped, nor have the reports of early season fallouts with Dimitri Payet and several other senior members of the squad, despite good results so far.

Verdict – Although five wins from their first six has eased tensions a little, it’s hard not to feel like history is repeating itself and that this tumultuous club is set on another self-destructive path. However, Tudor arrived at Hellas Verona last season tasked with replacing the fantastic Ivan Jurić, another Croatian coach who had taken newly-promoted Verona to ninth and tenth placed finishes. But Tudor hit bigger points tallies than in either of Jurić’s seasons and the 44-year-old’s broad coaching experience, ranging from Hajduk Split to Udinese, means he isn’t a rookie either. Marseille may yet turn out to be in safer hands than some fear.

Alex Barker

More European Football News