Ligue 1 Review | Marseille rediscovers ‘hope’ in Jean-Louis Gasset’s winning start

As long as there is life, there is hope,” Jean-Louis Gasset determined after Olympique de Marseille’s victory over Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday evening. The newly appointed manager was ostensibly talking about the club’s chances in Europe, but it was a message that could summarise his early tenure. 

Gasset was not brought into the club with a grand future in mind, as his contract only runs until the end of the season. Instead, his role has been to provide an experienced head and a steadying hand to a difficult season for Marseille that has lurched from crisis to crisis without much reprieve. 

With my players, I tried for 48 hours to be positive, to relax them. I felt they were a little tense. There was no point in sulking in a corner and not being happy with yourself.” A sentiment that struck a stark contrast with that of the manager he replaced last Tuesday. 

Gennaro Gattuso’s final comments as Marseille’s manager were a declaration that the team had “hit rock bottom” and a vague allusion to a relegation battle, “the truth is that we’re going to have to start looking behind us. We can no longer speak about Europe. We just need to take the necessary points to be calm in the standings.”

The end for Gattuso

The decision to fire Gattuso had looked obvious for weeks, yet it was still a surprise when the Marseille board finally pulled the trigger on the Italian’s time at the club. He had failed to win a single game since the 17th of December, a narrow 1-0 victory over amateur side US Thionville Lusitanos. However, there was still the feeling that the manager would see out their Europa League second leg against Shakhtar Donestk. 

This was not to be the case as two days ahead of the most important fixture remaining in their calendar, Marseille called time on Gattuso’s reign and appointed their fourth manager of the season. It was a huge risk to take ahead of a match left finely in the balance after a 2-2 draw in Hamburg, and the timing of the decision was widely regarded to be the latest in the club’s hastily thought-out and self-destructive plans. 

An early goal conceded to Shakhtar only seemed to confirm this point. Yet, what happened next was entirely off-character for Marseille this season. The team began to play with a sense of freedom that had been long missing. Passing moves began to develop and the players rather than wilting grew in confidence and recorded a 3-1 comeback to secure passage into the next round. 

On Sunday evening, Marseille followed up their first victory under Gasset with their first league win of the year as they again battled back from an early goal to defeat Montpellier HSC 4-1. And once again the team impressed in their ability to overcome early adversity and recover the result.

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Marseille find their groove 

Within only a short amount of time under their new manager, there are signs that Marseille are beginning to look like a team liberated from some of the doubts that have held them back this season. Illiman Ndiaye in particular had what looked like a breakout performance for a player who has struggled since moving back to his boyhood club in the summer. 

Under his previous three managers, Ndiaye has flittered through games without ever leaving much of an impact. However, against Montpellier he encapsulated the newly-found confidence flowing through the side, asking constantly for the ball on the half-turn before carrying it forward with the graceful burst of pace that had earned him a move back to France. 

Of course, not everything was brilliant for Marseille, and Montpellier probably should have punished their hosts more for their defensive errors. However, these errors never became a self-conscious cycle of implosion as often occurred for Marseille under Gattuso. There was an acceptance not only of their limitations but of their great strengths, and as the game wore on they leant on those positives to ultimately overwhelm their opposition. 

Gasset returned once more to the phrase “As long as there is life, there is hope,” in his postmatch comments. And after the performances against Shakhtar and Montpellier, it could well become a message that defines his time at the club. At least for now, it certainly seems as if the players have begun to believe that there is still ‘life’ left in the season for them. 

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GFFN | Nick Hartland

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