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Preview: Olympique Marseille vs Bayern Munich

Milan got Barca. Chelsea got Benfica. Real Madrid got Nikosia. And Bayern got Marseille. That was actually the draw I had wished. I was afraid of Milan and Barca because Bayern can’t win against them yet. Any of the other 5 remaining clubs was ok to me but I did wish Marseille because I like their way of playing football when in-form. Back then, Marseille wasn’t in a crisis and they had just kicked Inter out of the Champions League. By now though, Marseille has only gotten 1 point in the last 8 games (tie on Saturday against Nice who are in the relegation battle) and the crisis is well underway. However, OM has been performing pretty well in the Champions League yet unlike in the Ligue 1 where they are only 9th. So what kind of team is going to play the record champion from Germany?

Marseille’s performances in the Champions League have been pretty much the opposite of those in the league recently. 9th position, only 40 points (at least no real relegation danger anymore…), a poor goal difference of +6 (36 scored, 30 conceded) and a 10-point-gap till the Euro League qualification place. The aspirations of a prestigious club such as Olympique Marseille are surely different. Not to forget that the Mediterranean club finished runner-ups last year and even won the Ligue 1 two years ago.

Robbery will defeat them anyway

The crisis in Southern France is generally due to the African Cup of Nations from January to February. Some of their most important players participated in it and came back all exhausted but immediately had to play lots of matches within a few weeks due to the Ligue 1, Champions League and the French cup. On the subject of the French cup: the provisional climax of OM’s crisis was reached last Wednesday, exactly one week before the game against Bayern. Didier Deschamps’ men lost 2-3 against Quevilly, an amateur club who is in relegation danger in one of the lower French leagues. Using the example of Inter, the manager is often the scapegoat of the board but in Marseille it’s exactly the opposite.

Didier Deschamps, who is undoubtedly one of the best French managers, perhaps even the best of them at the moment, has always been backed up by the main shareholder, Margarita Louis-Dreyfus. She does know about the high and magnificient tactical knowledge of her 43-year-old manager. The former world class defender is also still very popular among his players who have never left him high and dry. He adopts his tactics to the opponent. So far he has already played in a 4-5-1, both offensive and defensive 4-3-3, a 4-4-2 (with two defensive midfielders) and the very common 4-2-3-1 which is his favorite formation in the Champions League.

It is actually pretty hard to say in what formation Didier Deschamps will decide to face Bayern Munich. A 4-4-2 would be quite logical since every team has used these tactics against Bayern so far in the second leg of this season. A 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders would be perfect for Marseille to close down space with two back fours who keep it tight. One of the biggest Marseillais strengths is their tactical versatility. They can easily switch between many different formations since they are always defending in the same way: forward pressing in the opponent’s half with 3 or even more players and two back fours who keep it tight in the own half. It’s actually really difficult to break through this great defending system – if Marseille is in-form. Due to their crisis, a 4-2-3-1 formation is quite likely as well though since it’s better for counter-attacks and pressing forward which are both things Bayern must be prepared to. Since Deschamps is a clever manager, I give him credit for marking Holger Badstuber, one of the most important build-up players in Heynckes’ system. It’ll be a tough game for sure but I do trust in our boys.

Marseille doesn’t have a budget of 140 million Euro a season for nothing. Their team is still among the best in France despite the bad current position in the league. Let me quickly present you every part of the team:

Marseille’s first goal keeper is Steve Mandanda, actually a pretty good one who is second “gardien de but” in the French national team. His play has really improved in the last years, quite a lot of experts already see him at eye level with Lyon’s Hugo Lloris, first goal keeper of “Les Bleus”. He is the one who saved Marseille from even worse results and is playing an amazing season so far. “Unfortunately” he committed a professional foul in the second game against Inter that caused a penalty (but didn’t threaten Marseille’s qualification for the quarters) and so he will miss the first game against Bayern. First, Deschamps was planning with Gennaro Bracigliano as replacement but after his bad matches, especially against Quevilly, he decided yesterday to play Andrade, the replacement of the replacement, on Wednesday. The Brazilian has only played 8 games for Marseille yet – in 3 years… Didier Deschamps is pushing his luck very hardly there…

Didier Deschamps’ defense is pretty great and not the major reason for the crisis. They always had to help in the defensive midfield what lead to gaps that were used in counter-attacks. However, Souleymane Diawara, Deschamps’ best central back has recently suffered a ligament rupture and will be out for about 6 months. Looks like a huge blow for Didier Deschamps but his other central back, Nicolas N’Koulou (22) is playing an amazing season and got very well along with Stéphane Mbia during the AFCON 2012 where Diawara actually participated in. So they do have a plan B. Furthermore OM’s full-backs are very strong, offensively as well as defensively and they play an important role in Deschamps’ offensive tactics.

The midfield of the Southern French club is pretty amazing as well. Matthieu Valbuena (27), Andre Ayew (22), Alou Diarra (30) and Morgan Amalfitano (27) are among the best on their positions in the Ligue 1. Alou Diarra, former Bayern player who came in summer, was immediately appointed main leader of Deschamps’ game and plays consequently a very important part in their plays. But he couldn’t satisfy all expectations yet… Morgan Amalfitano, Matthieu Valbuena and Andre Ayew often build the forward line and also rotate a lot. All of them can be really dangerous. Benoît Cheyrou (30), often assisting Diarra in the centre, is a great player as well as Ayew’s younger brother Jordan Ayew. Both, and the rest of the midfield, aren’t steady enough though.

OM’s forwards are pure dynamite! Brandão (31), André-Pierre Gignac (26) and Loïc Rémy (26) – all of them are physically very strong. Gignac is very unlikely to play though because he has had several arguments with the staff in the last months. He’s still a dangerous rocket though that can be launched by Deschamps at any time. Brandão who came back in winter from Brazil, has become one of the most important scorers for Marseille since his return and scored the important goal in Milan. Loïc Rémy is Marseille’s best striker and many top clubs are interested in him due 20 goals in 38 matches. It’s said though that he had dialed it down to be fit for the EURO in summer…

In my opinion, the key duels of this game are:

  • Mario Gomez vs Nicolas N’Koulou: France is actually afraid of Mario Gomez. Many newspapers such as the great magazine “France Football” have dedicated whole articles to him. Marseille is surely aware of the enormous threat that he represents and I honestly don’t think that N’Koulou is able to keep the 26-year-old German from scoring. Only Gomez himself can do this – he hasn’t scored any of his Champions League goals away yet…
  • Philipp Lahm vs Andre Ayew: As already said, Ayew is Marseille’s best winger and he’ll surely give Lahm a hard time over 90 minutes. Lahm must be fully concentrated to avoid greater damage in the defense. It is hard to say who’ll win this duel because our right full-back has played two matches a week for more than 2 weeks now…
  • Holger Badstuber vs Loïc Rémy: Our 23-year-old central back has handled Cavani, Dzeko, Agüero and Frei yet, so Rémy shouldn’t be a difficult task for him. However, same disadvantage as Lahm: lots of matches recently. But I do believe in him because he’s playing an amazing season so far.

As for Bayern, who have never faced Marseille, things will be much easier. They have scored as much goals in their last 5 matches as Marseille in their last 17: 22. I don’t think Jupp Heynckes will make greater changes, only Müller and Gomez will join the starting line-up again after they were rested on Saturday. Schweinsteiger has travelled with the team to Marseille but I doubt some playtime for him. The Bavarians will have to face Deschamps’ defensive tactics with lots of rotation in the forward line, many passes and a lot of patience. They shouldn’t play too much risky passes due to Marseille’s strong counter-attacking abilities. A win is a must for Bayern if they really want to reach the semis. Furthermore Marseille won’t be in this crisis forever, they might already have regained power in the second game and an OM in-form is always dangerous as Dortmund experienced painfully when they were leading 2-0 against the Frenchmen but lost 2-3 in the end…

Even though Marseille is in a crisis at the moment, I do expect a tight game tomorrow. The Champions League and especially the infamous atmosphere in the “Stade Vélodrome” can make anything happen. But Didier Deschamps’ men are under pressure because they can only save this messed up season with the Champions League. Bayern has to attack because of the double value of goals scored away what might play into Marseille’s hands who can counter-attack pretty well. It might turn out to be a battle of the managers and their systems but I actually expect a good game. And a Bayern win of course!

MIA SAN MIA!

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The match schedule

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