Derby duel at the Vélodrome
By A. Scott
South-coast rivals Olympique de Marseille and Montpellier Hérault SC will both be looking to erase disappointing recent results from the memory when they face off in a derby clash at the Stade Vélodrome on Saturday afternoon.
Olympique de Marseille - Montpellier Hérault SC
Marseille are determined to put their deeply disappointing display in the snow at Sochaux behind them. Élie Baup's side succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at the Stade Bonal in their opening league game of 2013 last Sunday, with the concession of two soft first-half goals from set-pieces being followed by a Jérémy Morel own-goal at the start of the second half.
That result denied OM the chance to move above Paris Saint-Germain into second place in the table. Instead, after sitting off top spot on goal difference only over the winter break, they came into Week 21 three points behind leaders Lyon.
Cheyrou: "Week following a defeat is always harder"
"The week that follows a defeat is always harder," admitted Benoît Cheyrou. "Clearly conceding three goals against Sochaux is not ideal, even given the weather conditions. It is imperative that we fix what went wrong, especially our defending of set-pieces. Sometimes you need to take a bit of a smack in the face to get a reaction. We have a real role to play in this championship race but such setbacks do not help us."
Traditionally, Marseille do well at home to their southern neighbours, having only lost once in 17 previous home meetings with Montpellier in the top flight. However, that one defeat came last season, when René Girard's side ran out 3-1 winners on their way to winning the title.
Montpellier poor in Coupe de la Ligue semi
Montpellier, though, come into this game on the back of a desperately poor 2-0 defeat to Stade Rennais FC in the Coupe de la Ligue semi-finals on Wednesday. The defending Ligue 1 champions stood just one game away from a second appearance at the Stade de France in three years, but just never showed up in Brittany, much to the anger of Girard.
"It was a hard one to take," said the Montpellier coach. "I was very disappointed with the way the team played because one side was playing for a place in a Cup final and the other performed as if it were a friendly. It was one of our worst performances of the season. We didn't play as a team."
Improved league form from the champions
Despite that blow, Montpellier can point to their much improved recent league form for optimism. They have won six and lost just two games - at Lyon and Lille - in their last 11 Ligue 1 outings. Only Lyon and Nice have collected more points in that time, with the latest success a 2-0 defeat of FC Lorient last weekend in which substitute Gaëtan Charbonnier scored both goals. European qualification remains a realistic aim and Cheyrou, who was this week described as the 'French Andrea Pirlo' by his midfield colleague Joey Barton, knows that an OM home win cannot be taken for granted.
"For Montpellier this match comes at a good time," he said. "They won't have the time to dwell on their defeat in midweek. They want to prove that their poor start to the season is now behind them. They will want to show that they can still have an impact in the league this season. We know it will be a tough game. I said the same thing before the match against Sochaux. Maybe some people didn't believe it, but in the end they found out to their expense. And maybe we would like some revenge for the defeat at home to them last year, which stuck in our throats."
The visitors to the Vélodrome are nevertheless struggling to deal with a raft of selection problems just now, including the absences of Younès Belhanda and Abdelhamid El-Kaoutari, who are currently with the Morocco squad at the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. OM have Charles Kaboré (Burkina Faso) and Foued Kadir (Algeria) away at the same competition, and there is of course no Loïc Rémy after he left for Queens Park Rangers in England. Coach Baup says he wants two new players before the end of the January transfer window, and has admitted that Toulouse and France midfielder Moussa Sissoko could be one of them.
Marseille: Mandanda; Fanni, Nkoulou, Lucas Mendes, Morel; Barton, Cheyrou; J. Ayew (or Amalfitano), Valbuena, A. Ayew; Gignac
Montpellier: Jourdren; Congré, Yanga-Mbiwa, Hilton, Bedimo; Dabo, pitau; Camara, Cabella, Utaka; Herrera