Marseille looking to their roots as they attempt another shot at history against PSG

Marseille looking to their roots as they attempt another shot at history against PSG
Malinovkyi scored the winner last time both sides met
Malinovkyi scored the winner last time both sides met
It has been a while since a Marseille squad has represented the South of France’s values, the idea of 'mouiller le maillot', or 'wetting the shirt' seemed to have vanished after bitter losses to rivals, agonising European exit and dressing room drama.

However, it was far from the end for one of France’s most iconic clubs as in a matter of a few months, Igor Tudor (44) and his men turned that ship completely around.

"It's like a city apart, a country in itself, in Marseille you want something, you have to fight and struggle for it." French football expert Andy Brassell described the club and city

Marseille is a rebellious region that didnt always follow the ideas and direction of the Parisian establishments.

As for the wetting the shirt mentality, this is how OM historian Thierry Agnello explained it best: 

''Even if you lose at the end of the match, if you have nothing to be reproached, if you wetted the shirt, the Marseillais will find it in their hearts to forgive you.''

Located on the south coast of France, les Marseillais - the people of Marseille - are a melting pot of immigrants and cultures, rich with animated values and a constant feel-good spirit about the city. Unfortunately, it is also a place touched by a high crime rate and an often misunderstood community, close to an "us vs the world" mentality.

The south vs the north and a very specific place in the north: Paris, home of star-studded, world class side Paris Saint Germain.

Marseille, as a city, is the oldest on the French territory, it has been around since 600 BC and used to be the more meaningful and known part of France, the national anthem is after the city's name; La Marseillaise. So was the club, founded in 1899, known as the strongest and France's representative in Europe and around the world, home of Ballon d'Or winners and World Cup stars. However, just like Paris' rise in the late 18th Century as the centre of France, so was the birth of PSG in 1970 which didn't necessarily kickstart an immediate dominance. 

Nevertheless, some financing from big names and a few bumps along the way on the south coast found the Parisians getting closer to Marseille by the mid-'80s.

Canal+, the main channel to stream the French league, also encouraged the clubs's owners especially Bernard Tapie - Marseille's then owner - to highlight the rivalry and ferocity between the clubs for publicity purposes. With time the rivalry grew more intense, especially as the monopol was bound for the north.

That said, the Marseille supporters maintain: "A jamais les premiers" meaning forever the first, referring to their Champions League triumph in 1993, boasting that they will always be the first French side to complete the feat.

A win against them means a non-stop party and festivities on and off the pitch, however, a loss is just another reminder of the capital’s superiority and fortune - on and off the pitch. Le Classique just means more, so much more.

Marseille’s apparent downfall started in mid-October when they lost to PSG in disappointing fashion with a late red card at the Parc des Princes. A mediocre performance to say the least saw them leaving Paris for a trip across the country in embarrassment.

It didn't get much better after that either - what followed by three losses and a draw, one against Spurs in the dying moments of the game confirming their exclusion from Europe’s elite.

Nevertheless, a glimmer of hope started showing right before the World Cup when they defeated both Lyon and Monaco consecutively. The Marseille that returned to Ligue 1 after Qatar were a different side, starting off their first match in the second half of the season with a domineering 6-1 victory against Toulouse, showing that this time, they just might make their city proud.

A Marseille that impressed week in week out, playing an old school intense style, one that looks unsustainable at times but the good has definitely outdone the bad.

Since the end of December, Marseille have played 12 games in all competitions, winning ten, drawing one and losing one. Tudor’s no nonsense and hard working mentality had affected and spread all over the Velodrome.

A former defender, Tudor played for Juventus under some of the Old Lady’s greatest maestros in Carlo Ancellotti (63) and Marcelo Lippi (74). Learning tactics from the Italian coaches but his fierceness and strength were what always stood out - a warrior on the pitch was how he was seen.

This is how Flashscore Italy's Senior Editor Fabio Russomando described him:

"Tudor was a good player, a former defender and midfielder. Unfortunately, his career was considerably damaged by many injuries, which earned him the nickname of the "crystal giant.

"He is a powerful personality. His football and ideas are almost militaristic." he said.

"Tudor likes offensive, intense, organised, and ambitious football. He wants his players to trust in him 100% and believe in his ideas and project because they represent the only way to move forward and compete with richer, better-equipped, stronger teams.

"Involvement is the keyword, and it is the same for the fans. He always tries to create a unified environment between the team and fans."

In August, tension rose as Tudor proved to be a man of complete honesty and little diplomacy. A source had told French newspaper L’Equipe that the then new manager made his disagreements clear: “’You don’t run enough, you don’t work enough and you don’t play as you should,'” he told his players. The club was on his side, offering to sell players who weren’t meeting his standards.

A fallout with club icon Dimitri Payet (35) didn’t phase the Croatian manager, he had no problem in sidelining the Frenchman all while keeping control of the dressing room. Putting his trust in youth and a couple of sensible transfers.

A big character and authoritarian boss, Tudor always requires obedience from his players. Payet wasn’t the only one to have a problem with him as Matteo Guendouzi (23) was reported to have had an altercation with him at half-time in a friendly match against AC Milan. Jordan Amavi and Gerson (25) have also reportedly confronted him in pre-season.

It was then no surprise that Gerson moved to Brazilian side Flamengo while Amavi was sent out on loan to Spanish outfit Getafe.

Tudor is an old-school manager in the dressing room with man management but also in the pitch and playing style. Granted, it took time to prove effective, but the board’s patience and support wasn’t for vain after all.

Guendouzi decided to stick to his style and is now one of Marseille’s most important players, Payet offers as much guidance and support from the bench and even gave an emotional speech on the night Marseille defeated PSG earlier this month - a gesture Tudor appreciated.

His football took its time but made the difference, filled with all the qualities that even PSG lacks at the moment. That happened through the authority’s establishment from Tudor, and in a nutshell getting his players to run and press old school style, re-installing the "mouiller le maillot", leaving the Velodrome fiery every time they take to the pitch.

Turning the loss to Spurs into a blessing, with one less competition to worry about, players can recover and rest to keep the intensity and high pressing filled strategy as sustainable as possible.

Sensible transfers helped achieve that, even random transfers one might think, all have paid off for Marseille, but also for the players that have some sense of redemption on the south coast of France.

Guendouzi, signed in the summer, came off a far from great reputation with Arsenal following an argument with manager Mikel Arteta. Currently a young yet mature passionate leader, he is beloved by the supporters and is enjoying a remarkable flourishment of his potential.

Alexis Sanchez (34) is another - a player believed to have been finished after disappointing spells at Manchester United and Inter Milan - however, his time at Marseille is seeing his qualities amplified. El Nino Maravilla is shining for the southern side, finding the net on nine occasions and assisting another in Ligue 1, leading his new team from the front with experience and goals.

Another name is Cengiz Under (25), a player whose perfromances with Roma were hopeful and pointed towards a unique career but the Turkish international had never managed to quite get there though and seemed to be underwhelming in the Italian capital.

However, his time in the colours of Marseille might just represent the turning point as he heads into his prime as he rises in confidence and experience.

The likes of Jordan Veretout (29), combining with stalwart Valentin Rongier (28), who has stepped up in leadership after the departure of club legend Steve Mandanda (37), to create an unexpected, yet incredibly reliable midfield line, proving crucial to Tudor's system.

They also managed to win the fight over Azzedine Ounahi (22) who shone for Morocco in the World Cup and has many expectations on his shoulders. Ruslan Malinovsky (29) is another signing already proving his worth, scoring against PSG and turning the game around against Toulouse after coming off the bench.

Jonathan Clauss (30), the former Lens man who won the hearts of the nation when he reacted in the most wholesome manner to his France call up, is originally a right-back, but he is now a versatile and indispensable part of both Marseille's defensive and attacking plans. 

Against PSG this Sunday they will try to benefit from their exclusion of the Champions League to rest as they prepare for another intense contest. Tudor's side will be trying to repeat their masterclass that earned them a place in the Coupe De France quarter-final as they knocked the capital side out of the domestic competition earning them their first win in 12 years at the Velodrome against their rivals.

A perfect example of wetting the shirt is the relentless old fashioned pressing that made the pricey PSG forward line made of Champions League, World Cup winners as well as transfer record breakers, look like your average mid-table force trying to touch the ball in the box, but all in agonising vain.

The hosts played in a 3-4-2-1 shape that caters perfectly to their style, compact in defense helping an almost instant retrieval of the ball thanks to the proximity of the players. Creating shapes, closest to triangles all over the thirds of the pitch. They made the most of tough pass passes and using the touchline and throw ins to their benefit. If you can't win the ball, at least tighten the angle and point the opponent towards the nearest exit, can be a fitting motto for the pressing system.

That can be seen for example where center-back Chancel Mbemba (28) went back with the dropping Neymar (31) on multiple occasions to intercept the ball as the Brazilian was trying to receive a throw-in, the defender kept trying until he managed to switch possession just outside the box and started the move that ended with Malinovsky's beautiful strike and winner. 

Once they've retrieved the ball, moving it forward is the priority which can then be more or less straightforward thanks to the previously mentioned pressing triangles, serving symmetrically as constantly available passing options with the players close to each other. Two midfielders, one stays around the edge of the box, in a more central position while the other goes towards the flanks that is providing the attack.

If the offense is coming from the middle where the ball was intercepted, the wing-back runs forward close to the line, extending the defensive lines and creating space and channels for forwards to run into and receive the ball from the accurate and visual midfielders in Guenouzi and Veretout. The opening goal came from a penalty however, the move that awarded them the sport-kick came from a similar scenario. 

Under, the player who drew the penalty had dropped back to help the pressing behind midfield, getting the ball and sprinting between lines and defenders. Leaving the ball to Guendouzi, who, with the help of Clauss' run, had more room to place a ball sending the Turkish forward where he can do the damage.

In the first half of that match, Marseille won 10 balls in the final third, 52% of the duels, managed 13 shots with six on target and had 17 touches in the PSG box.

That win baptised unsurprisingly by Tudor as his men's "best match of the season" came two days after a loss to Nice that saw them run a combined 120 kilometres. 

To defeat PSG is one thing but to defeat PSG with little rest, incredible amount of resilience and relentlessness, dominating for over 90 minutes and being the worthy triumphant side is another.

Marseille have impressed everyone in the second half of this season, with unstoppable momentum, catchy football and above all wetting their shirts every single match, making the Mediterranean side's faithful proud and more than hopeful for another historical win this weekend. And, who knows? A historical end to an already remarkable season could be on its way to Marseille once again.


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