The summer transfer window had been quite eventful for Marseille and despite not winning le championat, in the previous season, they managed to hold on to the majority of their squad, ensuring they had a team that most felt would challenge big-money PSG for the title.
Arguably the two main losses to the squad, Taye Taiwo and Gabriel Heinze cost the club most. Not only did the two dependable defenders leave for free, but the gaps they left were to be filled by Cesar Azpilicueta who had missed most of the previous season through injury and new signing Jeremy Morel who had only ever played Ligue 1 and 2 football for FC Lorient. Throughout the season, injury and suspension meant that Didier Deschamps had to rotate the defensive line-up a number of times, add to this the inexperience of some of those players in ‘big games’ and it’s no wonder Marseille did not perform as well as most had predicted.
Pre-season started well for Marseille, picking up a mix of results as Deschamps tried to find his ideal starting 11 and formation. The first real competitive game brought OM together with the team they lost the ligue to, Lille, in the Trophee des Champions. Having went 0-3 down Marseille managed to win an enthralling game 5-4 with goals from Morel, Remy and a hat-trick from Andre Ayew. The team demonstrated patience, skill, desire and determination in this match, only time would tell if the team had it in them to take back the Ligue title from les Dogues, and fight off ‘QSG’. (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xk6jgk_lille-4-5-marseille-match-historique_sport#)
After all of the pre-season hype, Marseille certainly did not demonstrate much sign of intent during their opening games, only managing draws against Sochaux, Auxerre and Saint-Etienne. Opting for a 4-3-3 formation against Lille, Marseille showed some of the pre-season desire as they came back from a goal down, Valbuena netting twice to give OM a 2-1 lead on ’62 minutes. Things then fell apart for Marseille though as first Chedjou and then Sow, scoring his 2nd on ’75, ensured that Marseille left Lille without any points.
After 6 games, Marseille sat bottom of Ligue 1. They had failed to win a single ligue game, and suffered 3 defeats in a row at the hands of Lille, Rennes and Lyon in the ‘Olympico’. A second half goal from Lucho Gonzalez away at Olympiakos in the opening Champions League game had provided l’OM with their only respite, as fans and the board were becoming increasingly concerned with results and performances. The goal was probably Gonzalez’ best moment in a poor half of season, as he helped Marseille’s attack from a 5-man midfield. This continual tinkering of tactics and formation was highlighted by many as the reason for Marseille’s poor form, as old and new players struggled to show any cohesion on the pitch as they attempted to adapt to their new positions or roles.
A 2-0 win against newly promoted Evian (Remy 2), seemed to spur the team on however as they then went on to pick up 4 wins and 3 draws in their next 8 games propelling the team up to 12th in Ligue 1, into the ¼ finals of the Coupe de la Ligue, and with every chance of qualifying for the next round of the Champions League. A more consistent squad line-up and 4-4-2 formation ensured that Marseille picked up valuable wins against Dijon and Nice. 2 defeats in a row against 2nd placed Montpellier and Olympiakos, meant that Marseille would have to make home advantage count for more than form as they ‘welcomed’ table topping PSG to the Velodrome at the end of November.
The game started at a frenetic pace, both teams attacking and looking to draw first blood. PSG went closest first but failed to challenge Mandanda. Marseille played on the counter and in the 9th minute a charge down the by Azpilicueta, followed by a deep cross, saw Remy leap and header in from the penalty spot. The game continued to be played in a fast paced and entertaining manner, Lucho controlled possession well and Remy and A. Ayew continued to cause the PSG defence all sorts of problems. At the other end Nene, Pastore, Menez and Gameiro always looked likely to work some magic but Diawarra and NKoulou with the support of Mbia, ensured that Mandanda was not troubled too often. As the second half settled a little, PSG coach Kombouare tried to liven their attack by removing the ineffective Pastore and Gameiro for Bodmer and Erding. Fortunately, all this did was allow OM to attack a team yet to find its new shape and within 5 minutes Jordan Ayew had dispossessed the hesitant Matuidi to allow Amalfitano to drive home a Marseille 2nd. Andre Ayew then ensured an emphatic Marseille win in the 84th minute as his deflected goal gave OM a surprisingly comfortable 3-0 victory. (http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xmmbkv_o-marsiglia-3-0-psg-giornata-15_sport?search_algo=1)
The victory against PSG was without doubt one of the best performances by Marseille all season. Memories of the dismal start of the season had started to fade, and as Marseille entered December in 9th position, only 9 points off PSG, players, pundits and fans began to predict that perhaps OM could still challenge for the Ligue title come the end of May. Much of this would depend on the ligue results that Marseille could pick up leading in and out of the winter break though, and there was still the small matter of an away trip to Borussia Dortmund needing a victory to be certain of qualification to the knock out stages.
After what must be classed as a fairly poor start to the season, the PSG victory was to provide the springboard for an impressive OM unbeaten run. This was to be the best period of the season for Deschamps’ men and in total they would go on a 16 game streak without defeat.
The PSG win was followed by a fairly straightforward away ligue victory away at Caen, 2-1,before what must be classed as the most crazy comeback of the campaign in the CL away at Borussia Dortmund’s WestfallenStadion. The slip up against Olympiakos meant that OM still had their destiny in their own hands, but would likely have to beat Dortmund on their own patch to achieve qualification into the last 16. Things didn’t look good when the German champions led 2-0 and seemed in complete control. However, OM managed to produce a remarkable 2nd half comeback to eventually win 3-2 in sensational style. The winning goal was scored by Mathieu Valbuena in spectacular fashion! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFtQ6zGKAk8)
Before the winter break, OM managed to maintain their momentum by picking up a further 7 ligue points. A boring 0-0 draw at home to Bordeaux was followed by a last gasp winner at home to Lorient, 2-1. Then just before Christmas the Mediterranean giants completed an impressive 3-1 success away at Nancy. Things were looking a bit better for OM during the festive period and fans could be more content the club was heading in the right direction.
The first few weeks of 2012 were mostly about cups for OM. They started the new year with a comfortable 5-0 win against Red Star Paris at Le Stade de France. This stadium would once again provide OM with another trophy later on in the campaign, clearly it’s an environment the players are comfortable playing in. The next Coupe de France match would be harder work, but OM managed to scrape past Le Havre 3-1 at the Velodrome. The QFs of the Coupe de la Ligue were more straightforward and Caen got battered 3-0.
Mixed in with these cup results were a couple of huge ligue victories. The first was a 2-0 home success facing Lille and this was one of the best performances of the whole season. Lille had hardly lost a ligue game before this fixture so it was a major achievement to beat them so convincingly. At the end of January a superb 2nd half display capped a fine 2-1 win at Rennes and OM now clearly had momentum. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQo8oC2MyJY)
Around this time saw the return of controversial striker Brandao to the club. It was no secret that Marseille needed more firepower upfront, but despite other avenues being explored, no suitable transfer could be brought in. So instead it was up to the Brazilian to try and come back to make an impact. To be fair, he definitely ended up performing much better than most people expected and scored some crucial goals.
Deschamps’ men raced into yet another Coupe de la Ligue final by beating Nice 2-1 at home on 1st February. It wasn’t the best of displays but it ensured an 8th consecutive victory in all competitions and everyone was now saying ‘OM are back’ However, the first signs of cracking were to show in the next ligue fixture when they blew a 2-0 home lead against Lyon, only to be pegged back to 2-2. An easy win facing FC Bourg-Peronnas in the cup was followed by another let-down ligue display when only a 1-1 draw could be obtained against Valenciennes at the Velodrome.
OM had done well in January and the early part of February considering they lost players to the African Nations cup. Both the Ayews, Kabore and Diawara were missing in action, but it didn’t seem to upset at rhythm of the team, at least around that time anyway. Actually, on the return of these players, things seemed to gradually slide down a bit. All of them seemed to come back with some sort of hangover, especially Diawara who was awful at times.
February overall wasn’t that bad a month, but the 6 week injury to Stephane Mbia didn’t help matters. Perhaps it was his absence which affected the team more, because he had looked in good form prior to getting crocked like this. Nevertheless, despite a few dodgy results, OM did head into the CL last 16 unbeaten in 15 games. Inter were the opponents in what was dubbed ‘the battle of domestic underachievers’ Claudio Ranieri’s Italians hadn’t had the best of seasons either and when the two sides met at the Velodrome you could see a lack of confidence in both camps. It was an awful game of football but Andre Ayew’s header late on managed to give OM a precious lead 1-0 and this was a terrific result.
An incredible mid-season had seen Marseille leap up the Ligue 1 standings to 4th, only 5 points behind PSG and 7 points off ligue leaders Montpellier. As OM had to play Montpellier and PSG again in the ligue, a Champions League position or even le Championat did not look out of the question if the ligues form team could complete the season in the same manner.
Unfortunately this was not to happen, as Marseille managed to press self-destruct in the most spectacular fashion and managed to pick up only 3 wins from their final 20 games in all competitions.
The start of this catastrophic form began away to Brest, where it must be said that Marseille were actually very unlucky. Brandao should have been awarded a penalty inside the first minute, when he was fouled by Martial who would have been rightly sent off too. For the rest of the game OM were up against an inspired Brest defence who, on the odd occasion were breached, had the seemingly unbeatable Elana to help out. Elana pulled out a number of top-drawer saves and performed possibly the game of his career to deny OM a 17th consecutive victory.
Defeats and poor performances against Toulouse, Evian and Ajaccio were hardly the ideal preparation for the 2nd-leg Champions League game against Inter Milan at the San Siro. In an incredibly tight game, Marseille played well. They created chances and looked relatively solid in defence. A 75th minute scrambled goal by Milito threatened to take the game into extra-time, however a crazy final five minutes changed that. First of all, Brandao netted for OM having controlled the ball with his back he then just managed to beat Cesar with his shot giving Marseille a 2-1 aggregate lead. Then almost immediately from the restart Inter charged forwards and as Pazzini was closing down on goal, Mandanda brought him down, 2nd yellow card, sending off and Inter penalty. Bracigliano was brought on to face the penalty and pick the ball out of the net, but full time was blown for immediately and Marseille advanced to face Bayern Munich in the ¼ finals of the Champions League. (http://www.footballtarget.com/2012/03/inter-2-1-marseille-champions-league/)
Only Marseille could take fans from the elation of a Champions League ¼ final win to the depths of despair with defeats against Dijon and then US Quvilly in the Coupe de France ¼ final within the space of a week.
A 1-1 draw against Nice set Marseille up for their Champions League ¼ final game against Bayern Munich. Deschamps lined up a strong OM team with the only major change being that 3rd choice ‘keeper Andrade was controversially chosen ahead of Bracigliano on the back of his weak performance against Quevilly. This choice in the first leg proved decisive, as Andrade let in 2 relatively poor goals, from Gomez and Robben. His poor positioning for both strikes wasn’t helped by his defence, but the 0-2 home defeat would be asking a great deal for OM to overcome at the Alianz Arena.
Marseille were controversially given a weekend break in order to prepare for the return Champions League match, the match against Ligue 1 title contenders being put back a week and a half. With Mandanda back between the posts and a relatively full strength squad, OM failed to break Bayern down at all and 2 first half goals from Olic left OM with no chance at all.
Back on Ligue 1 duties the team failed to do the double over PSG as goals from Menez and Alex either side of an Andre Ayew strike meant OM left the Parc des Princes without any points. The futilely postponed game against Montpellier came only days before the Coupe de la Ligue final and again, hardly provided OM with any much needed confidence as Montpellier romped home to a 3-1 win.
Marseille entered the Coupe de la Ligue final against Olympique Lyonnais having failed to beat them twice this season and without a win in 12 games. Another re-shuffled team, with Cheyrou starting and Azpilicueta shifted to left-back didn’t help OM get into their stride either. The truth is, as slow as OM were, and as much as they struggled to play exciting and attacking football, Lyon were just as bad. A drab 90 minutes passed and the score was still 0-0. After 105’ minutes though Brandao managed to break the deadlock and the rest, as they say is history. Marseille picked up the Coupe de la Ligue trophy for a record 3 times in 3 years, and managed to claim a route into Europe for next season. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrv5UN1akMk)
The less said about the end of the season the better as Marseille limped towards the summer nursing more injuries, rotating positions and formations again and seeing reserve team players and Under 19 players making up pitch time. Other than racking up yet more defeats and poor performances the most newsworthy thing OM managed was to relegate Auxerre by picking up a victory over them in the second last week of the season.
Who knows what the summer will bring. If rumours are to be believed we could expect anything from a major foreign investment, akin to the PSG one, to a major clear-out with every player up for sale and no money to bring in new players. We could also see Deschamps axed over performances and results this season, or he could stay. There also might or might not be backroom changes and changes in the boardroom too. Either way, if anything does happen, we’ll make sure you hear it here.
Thanks for all of your support this season.
Swanny & Steve (@Andrew_Js3 @meatmansoccer & @MarseilleUK)