Ligue 1 Review | Cause for concern at Marseille

If you’re asking me if I’m worried, yes, I am a bit,” reacted Gennaro Gattuso after Olympique de Marseille’s latest loss. Without a Ligue 1 victory since 8th October, there is good reason for concern.

Marseille are exiting a turbulent period. After Igor Tudor’s departure in the summer, Marcelino lasted just a matter of games in the post before threats and slander from the club’s fanbase precipitated his swift departure. Other executive members of the club, including Pablo Longoria, were also subjected to such threats. President Longoria temporarily stepped back from his role in September before announcing that he would remain at the club. 

Upon his return to his functions, Longoria had the task of finding Marcelino’s successor. Gattuso was the man ultimately brought in. In terms of personality and play style, he could not have been much more of a radical departure from his predecessor, which immediately caused issues. 

Inconsistency in playing philosophy

“I respect Marcelino and his staff, but he had a different style of play and I think that the players have 60 or 65 minutes in their legs to play a high-pressing game,” said Gattuso after a 2-2 draw against Brighton at the Vélodrome in early October. It seems these problems still persist. 

Gattuso questioned his player’s work rate after Sunday’s loss against RC Lens, which leaves them heading into the international break into the second half of the Ligue 1 table. “We see some players pressing at only 50 or 60%, which is unacceptable. We’re going to work to try and resolve these issues,” said the Italian manager.

Lens’ winner came in the 90th minute and Gattuso believes that his players must “work on the mental level.” However, as he has repeatedly acknowledged, there is a fitness issue and when the body goes, the mind goes too. OM also conceded late against OGC Nice in late October, and these late goals are more symptomatic of lapses of concentration, which have their root in fatigue. Fitness, therefore, remains an issue. 

Vitinha and Aubameyang continue to struggle

But Marseille’s players’ physical incapacity to adhere to Gatusso’s intense pressing style is far from the only issue. Despite conceding some late goals, defence, generally speaking, is not a big problem for Marseille. Renan Lodi has not lived up to the billing since his arrival from Atletico Madrid, but Leonardo Balerdi has shown improvement, whilst Samuel Gigot and Chancel Mbemba look solid once again this season. Jonathan Clauss’ form has even earned him a recall to the France squad.

The problem is up front. Vitinha arrived at Marseille for a club record €32m fee from Braga in January. His five goals in 31 games for Les Phocéens hardly justifies that significant outlay. To relieve the burden of expectation, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived in the summer. The former Chelsea striker has just one Ligue 1 goal to his name and is on a long run of anonymous performances. If there were viable alternatives, he would be dropped, but when given his chance, Vitinha has hardly shown himself more capable. There has been significant investment up front, but little reward.

Then there is Gattuso himself. The Italian arrived as a figure supposed to galvanise. His “animalistic” style reportedly rubbed off on Marseille’s dressing room in those early days, however, that renewed energy is yet to manifest itself in an uptick in results, at least domestically. 

Gattuso’s Marseille contract clause

With one point from a possible nine, OM are 10th in Ligue 1 and sit just two points above the relegation play-off spot, currently occupied by FC Lorient. And whilst it would be hyperbolic to state that Marseille, like their fierce rivals Olympique Lyonnais, risk being dragged into a relegation battle, the possibility of missing out on European football is very real. 

Upon his arrival, Gattuso revealed that there is an extension clause within his contract that stipulates that he will remain as Marseille manager in the event of qualification for next season’s Champions League. All the signs thus far point towards Gattuso’s stay at the Vélodrome being a short one.

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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