Impressive Ocampos getting his reward
By A. Scott
The likes of Florian Thauvin and Luiz Gustavo have taken most of the plaudits, but Lucas Ocampos is also enjoying an outstanding season for Olympique de Marseille, who go to Toulouse FC on Sunday evening.
Toulouse FC - Olympique de Marseille
OM coach Rudi Garcia's decision to bring Ocampos back into the first-team fold at the Vélodrome after a season on loan in Italy has been a resounding success, with the Argentine further underlining his importance to the cause in midweek.
Ocampos scored twice, either side of a superb Dimitri Payet strike, as Marseille beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1 at home on Thursday in their UEFA Europa League last 16, first leg. That means OM have a healthy advantage to take to the Basque Country for next week's return.
The Argentine is enjoying surely his best season in Europe since first arriving at AS Monaco from River Plate as a teenager in 2012. He has now scored 12 goals in all competitions, including half a dozen in the league.
"Lucas is such a hard worker. He is making progress and he has been rewarded for that. He could even have scored a hat-trick," said Garcia of the 23-year-old's performance in the Europa League.
Highlights: OM strike late to snatch draw against Nantes
Ocampos' excellent relationship with left-back Jordan Amavi provides an extra dimension to Marseille's attacking play, while the temptation for opposition defences must be to focus on the threat of Payet and Thauvin.
The latter's fitness is a cause of some concern after he was stretchered off in the second half on Thursday in some distress with an ankle injury. Losing for any length of time a player who has scored 16 Ligue 1 Conforama goals this season, including the late goal that secured a 1-1 draw at home to FC Nantes last weekend, would be a major blow.
"We hope it's not nasty. According to the doctor there is nothing broken but he does have a great big bruise on his ankle so let's hope it's not too bad," Garcia said after Thursday's match.
Marseille will end the weekend in third place in the table regardless of results this weekend, but they want to keep the pressure on Monaco in second and maintain a healthy gap down to Olympique Lyonnais in fourth.
Home form the key for Toulouse
After taking just one point from their last two league outings, there will certainly be an extra determination to get back to winning ways and they can take confidence from their recent record at Le Stadium, where they have not lost in 10 visits in the league since a 3-0 defeat in February 2007.
Toulouse, who are missing suspended striker Andy Delort this weekend, are in the thick of the relegation battle, although they are proving tough to beat since Mickaël Debève replaced Pascal Dupraz as coach. He has overseen just one defeat in six Ligue 1 Conforama games at the helm, and that was a narrow 1-0 loss at home to leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
They have also held champions Monaco in recent weeks, although they needed a late Kelvin Amian goal just to draw 1-1 at 10-man bottom side FC Metz last weekend, with that their third successive stalemate since the PSG defeat.
Highlights: Amian grabs draw for TFC at Metz
"We know they are maybe not as strong at the moment as they were a few weeks ago. But Marseille still have great players and we have to expect just as difficult a match as against Paris and Monaco," said Toulouse midfielder Yannick Cahuzac.
With their remaining home fixtures all against sides around them in the table, Cahuzac - relegated with SC Bastia last season - knows results in front of their own fans will be vital if they are to stay up.
"I have been involved in a lot of seasons fighting against relegation right down to the wire. These periods are very mentally wearing. Our destiny is in our hands and I think it will be decided at home," he said.
Toulouse: Lafont; Amian, Diop (c), Jullien, Sylla; Sangaré, Cahuzac, Imbula; Mubele, Sanogo, Gradel
Marseille: Mandanda; Sakai, Rami, Rolando, Amavi; Anguissa, Luiz Gustavo; Ocampos, Sanson, Payet (c); Germain