UEFA Europa League, Matchday 4, 09/11/23
Following Brighton’s 2-0 away win at Amsterdam, Olympique de Marseille had the opportunity to leapfrog Roberto de Zerbi’s Seagulls and top Group B. Italian manager Gennaro Gattuso had to make do with a depleted squad in Greece with Valentin Rongier, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Azzedine Ounahi all unavailable. Nevertheless, Les Phocéens started with confidence and intent. Portuguese centre-forward Vitinha struggled again to justify his €32m price tag with a bad miss near the penalty spot after some great passing between Marseille players in Athens’ half.
The visitors were swiftly and fairly rewarded. Jonathan Clauss’ superb inswinging corner kick was emphatically met by Chancel Mbemba’s towering header, putting Marseille in front. The Congolese almost made it two with another powerful header, but Georgios Athanasiadis palmed his effort away. Considering the gap in quality between an enterprising Marseille side and a middling AEK team, one could argue that the 1-0 scoreline at half-time flattered the hosts.
It was a completely different game in the second half with AEK Athens deciding it was now time to turn up. Levi Garcia’s point-blank header was denied by an impressive save by Pau Lopez. Gennaro Gattuso’s side effectively gave up control and were inviting pressure from the hosts. Vitinha had himself two clear goal-scoring opportunities to put the game to bed, but he was denied by Athanasiadis and then by the keeper’s right post.
Marseille survived a late onslaught and even made it two in injury time. Jordan Veretout led a counter-attack before laying it on a plate for Ismaïla Sarr to double their lead. Those three vital points should ensure Marseille, at the very least, a berth in the Europa Conference League. A home win against AFC Ajax in three weeks’ time will be enough to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Europa League.
Marseille players ratings
Pau Lopez, 7
Jonathan Clauss, 7
Chancel Mbemba, 7 – “The demigod” made his mark in Athens. The Congolese centre-back struck his second goal of the Europa League campaign – he also scored the opener against Brighton last month – with a well-taken header.
Leonardo Balerdi, 6
Renan Lodi, 5
Jordan Veretout, 7
Geoffrey Kondogbia, 7 – The former Atlético de Madrid man put in a dominant shift in midfield, dictating the tempo of the game in the first half and plugging holes in the second. His return to form is a much-needed boost for Marseille given Valentin Rongier will be out for several months.
Amine Harit, 5
Joaquin Correa, 4
Iliman Ndiaye, 4
Vitinha, 3 – To his credit, he has won the overwhelming majority of his duels, courtesy of his commitment and physicality. The problem is, that he does not look like he knows what to do with his feet, which is concerning for a football player. Needlessly booked for a lunge on Djibril Sidibé and denied by Athanasiadis for his only shot on target.
GFFN | Bastien Cheval