21 Feb European Football Round-Up: Marseille’s Forward Movement and German Tennis Ball Monday Madness
MARSEILLE CAN’T WIN LIGUE 1 BUT CAN SHOW THEIR PROGRESS IN PARIS TRIP
Olympique de Marseille are under no illusions about their chances of winning Ligue 1 this season — that will be an impossible task. But as the club rolls into the French capital to take on champions-elect Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday, they will be handed an opportunity to show their progress.
Marseille have lived through some rather challenging times in recent years — prior to Frank McCourt’s takeover there was sizable fan unrest with the team hovering just above the relegation zone on numerous occasions. The football was dire and the players being brought in weren’t much better. The talent the club did possess was often being shipped out.
Marcelo Bielsa’s arrival brought a brief glimmer of hope but this faded as dramatically as he departed. The Argentine coach sensationally quit the club after just one match of his second season and spent much of his time in charge bemoaning the signings made without his say-so, such as Brazilian centre-back Doria.
After his appointment in October 2016, Rudi Garcia has guided the club through to calmer waters, and has earned a respectable 55% win percentage since arriving. There has also been a marked improvement in matters off the pitch, with former club-favourite and prominent French international Dimitri Payet returning to the club. Garcia strung together an 11 match unbeaten at the end of the 2016/17 season which enabled Marseille to qualify for the Europa League by virtue of their fifth-place finish.
The positivity surrounding the club has continued into the current campaign, if Patrice Evra’s incredible outburst in which he kicked a supporter before a Europa League match with Vitória de Guimarães is taken out of the equation. Garcia has taken his team to third place in the league, while they are comfortable positioned in the Europa League having defeated Sporting Braga 3-0 in the first leg of their knockout tie, and are heading into Paris on the back of eight Ligue 1 matches without defeat.
Everything that was good about Garcia’s time in charge of Roma can be seen at the Stade Velodrome at the moment. His style of football is aesthetically pleasing and he is getting the very best out of players who were cast aside as failures at other clubs. Former Newcastle winger Florian Thauvin is a shining example, with the Frenchman scoring 14 goals in the league alone this term.
Unfortunately, despite losing just three matches in the league this season, Marseille’s squad remains vastly inferior to the one at Unai Emery’s disposal. Despite battling for a 2-2 draw in the return fixture earlier this season, the visitors are hardly expected to emerge victorious on Sunday.
Perhaps, given the skewed nature of the league, this isn’t a major problem for Marseille at the moment. It’s difficult to see any team truly challenging PSG in the next few years — which is what made Monaco’s Ligue 1 triumph last season so spectacular for the neutral. The real aim for the club on Sunday is to show their progress; they need to demonstrate that they are closing the gap to their fiercest rivals, or at least extending the gap between themselves and the clubs behind them.
Champions League qualification is imperative for the McCourt model. The fiscal benefits playing in Europe’s premier club competition would bring to the club is immeasurable, and it could give Garcia more options to strengthen his team in the summer.
The mood at the Parc des Princes has been one of resentment since the Champions League defeat to Real Madrid. There remains unhappiness with how Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi officiated proceedings at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, and with PSG’s focus perhaps turning to the second-leg of that tie, there may not be a better time for Rudi Garcia and co. to cause an upset in the capital.
BUNDESLIGA AND GERMAN FA FACE TOUGH DECISION AFTER FRANKFURT PROTESTS
Monday’s Bundesliga fixture between Eintracht Frankfurt and RB Leipzig was marred by furious protests from home supporters against the decision to hold the game on a Monday evening. Both the Bundesliga and German FA have reiterated that the decision was made solely to aid RB Leipzig’s Europa League run, but supporters of Eintracht Frankfurt feel it was a cynical move made for minimal financial gain and nothing more.
For those who regularly watch the Premier League, this may not be seen as a big deal with midweek matches the norm. But in Germany, Monday’s fixture has been seen as a direct attack at the very heart of German footballing culture. Banners which read ‘No to Monday Night Football’ were displayed throughout the crowd, whilst tennis balls were thrown on to the pitch, forcing the match to be delayed.Such is the distaste for Monday night matches in Germany, both the Bundesliga and the German FA have a decision to make now as to whether or not they can be repeated. Whilst Premier League clubs yearn for their own football association to help clubs competing in continental competitions in such a way, supporters seem to have rejected the notion in Germany. Disruption of every match played on a Monday evening is not unsustainable, which the both authorities will now be clearly aware of.
Whether the powers-that-be decide to dismiss the concerns of supporters by persevering with Monday-night matches until the protests die down remains to be seen. Yet right now there seems to be very little appetite from supporters for such scheduling. Even the supporters of RB Leipzig, infamous across the continent as one of the major scourges of modern football because of their relationship with energy drink giants Red Bull, made the decision to boycott the match.
The next Monday night fixture comes as early as next week when Augsburg make the 373 mile journey to the Westfalenstadion to face Borussia Dortmund. Similar protests are expected, and with Augsburg supporters already confirming they too won’t be making the trip, the headache the Bundesliga and German FA are facing shows no sign of clearing anytime soon.