After a woeful domestic campaign during 2011/12, hopes weren’t particularly high at the start of the 2012/13 season. Having won the Coupe de France, Marseille stuttered to a 10th place finish last time round. OM started the season having lost high profile players Lucho Gonzalez, Stephane Mbia, Alou Diarra and Cesar Azpilicueta, along with club legend and manager Didier Deschamps. With the loss of these ‘stars’ and with the less than favourable appointment of Elie Baup as manager, many felt that a top-10 finish would be a success. To many teams seemed to have better players, stringer squads and greater finances, not a position Marseille are used to being in.
With Elie Baup at the helm Marseille began their season early in the Europa League 3rd qualifying round and managed to see off a tricky Eskisehirspor team with two disciplined performances that were to become the blueprint for the rest of the season.
Much to everyone’s surprise OM’s ligue campaign stared perfectly, with 6 wins from 6. At the time most put this down to a ‘generous’ fixture list, though it did contain a tricky trip to champions Montpellier and a Rennes side who usually start the season well. It looked as though all of this hard work had been in vain though as the side were humiliated 4-1 by Valenciennes in week 7 in one of the worst performances of the season. Individual errors were costly and OM offered little in attack.
Despite this loss, Marseille managed a moral boosting win in the Europa League, 5-1 over AEL Limassol, however, PSG were up next. Even with the Valenciennes loss hanging over them, Marseille equalled and in fact, bettered psg in most areas across the pitch. 2 superb strikes from Zlatan were equalled by 2 fantastic strikes from the in-form Andre-Pierre Gignac. Such was the quality and threat that OM possessed in this game, Ancelotti’s team ended the game with 7 recognised defenders on the pitch playing out for a draw. The passion of this game in the stands, was equalled by our Olympians, and if psg hadn’t have played with such negativity in the second half Marseille could have and probably should have picked up all 3 points.
With APG in the kind of form that made him hot property when he signed for OM in 2010, the team struggled without him when he sustained a metatarsal injury in mid-October. During this time Marseille were knocked out of the Europa League at the end of the group stage, knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue and picked up Ligue 1 losses to Troyes, Lyon and Lorient allowing PSG and Lyon to finish above OM in the standings before the winter break.
With all 3 teams equal on points at the end of December though it was probably Marseille who should have been happiest. psg were undoubtedly disappointed that they had not already managed a significant points gap between themselves and their challengers, while Lyon were probably a little disappointed to be on the same points as OM.
One of the most unusual signings in France was Joey Barton signing for Marseille on loan. Hitting the headlines when ‘exiled’ to Marseille, he continued to upset most with his twitter-rants and comments and then proceeded to upset people even more by actually playing well on the pitch and putting in strong yet disciplined performances, he even had the audacity to set up the 2 goals that gave OM a win in a tough away trip to Stade Brestois, picking up the man of the match award in the process!
After the winter break Marseille dropped more points against Sochaux, Rennes, Nancy, Evian and PSG. The purchase of Romao, Sougou and Kadir on a shoestring budget seemed to have backfired for Baup and the board as the squad struggled to find their rhythm. With APG also struggling to find his early season form, the departure of Loic Remy to QPR meant that OM were relying on Jordan Ayew who is yet to live up to his potential or discover what the word consistent means.
Having got these poor results out of their system, Marseille managed to finish the season strongly. Being knocked out of the Europa league may have been a blessing given the lack of squad depth and European experience of some of the newer players.
Baup seemed to realise that defensively, Marseille had not been performing to their best standards and put a great deal of emphasis on defensive stability for the reminder of the season. With Lucas Mendes becoming accustomed to the Ligue 1 style, he and Nkoulou developed an impressive partnership that stopped almost anything getting to the equally as impressive Steve Mandanda who found some of his best form at the end of the season too. So good was this partnership that the team only let in a meagre 4 goals in the final 10 weeks of the season.
Despite it bringing on a ‘boring’ tag on Marseille’s approach to games, a solid defence was something that OM fans have craved for a long time. With the quality in their attacking ranks through Valbuena, Andre Ayew and Gignac there was always a likely chance that OM would score, and this is exactly what happened during Marseille’s 7 game streak without conceding, which allowed them to overtake Lyon and claim 2nd spot guaranteeing Champions League football next season. In my opinion the boring tag was a little unfair in the way it was used. Yes, OM weren’t netting 4 goals a game, but the squad were doing the best with what they had. Other teams would show ‘disciplined’ performances and were ‘clinical’ in front of goal while ‘grinding out results’ is often the sign of a good team. Hopefully, Baup and the other coaches can build on the defensive stability and work on the flow of football further up the pitch utilising the strength and pace that OM have in attack and therefore allow Marseille to not only keep tight in defence but also out score the opposition when needed (the 2 away psg games were indicative of a lack of this where the defence was breached).
Given the disappointment of last season, the uncertainty at the beginning of the season, pushing PSG so close for the title and finishing 2nd in the ligue is a huge achievement for Marseille. It remains to be seen how they manage next season to find out if it was an overachievement. Securing Champions League football is a huge boost though, and should hopefully ensure we hold onto our top players like Mandanda, Nkoulou and Valbuena. With some shrewd investment and signings that add to our squad depth this has the potential to be a team that develops further and pushes PSG all the way next season too.