Marseille look to bounce back
By A. Scott
Olympique de Marseille will look to bounce back from their 'Olympico' setback and finish the year on a high note as they entertain ESTAC Troyes at the Orange Vélodrome on Wednesday evening.
Olympique de Marseille - ESTAC Troyes
OM lost ground in the race for a top-three finish as they went down 2-0 away to Olympique Lyonnais in Sunday's big game, never recovering after goalkeeper Steve Mandanda let Nabil Fekir's sixth-minute free-kick through his grasp and into the net. The defeat ended a fine run of 12 Ligue 1 Conforama matches without losing for Rudi Garcia's side, who are now three points behind both AS Monaco and Lyon in fourth place, and with an inferior goal difference.
"I take entire responsibility because I shouldn't concede a goal like that. We did play quite well after that but by falling 1-0 down so early on it was difficult to win the game," admitted Mandanda, who was also beaten by Mariano Díaz early in the second half at the Groupama Stadium.
"We are three points behind and there are still 19 games left to play (actually 20), so we have plenty time to catch up. It was important to win because they are direct rivals, but it's done now, we can't go back, we just need to keep going and do our best to close the gap."
Two of Marseille's three defeats this season have come away at Lyon and Monaco, where they lost 6-1 at the end of August. It looks like only two of that trio will join runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain in qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season, but the positive for OM is that they host their rivals in the new year at the Vélodrome.
Highlights: Marseille lose 'Olympico' after Mandanda error
Defending champions Monaco visit at the end of January with Lyon to come in March as well as FC Nantes, who are currently five points behind Marseille in fifth. Rudi Garcia's men are unbeaten in their last eight home games in all competitions and have suffered just one defeat in front of their own fans in 18 outings since Monaco won 4-3 after extra time in the Coupe de France in March.
"It's good to have another game so quickly. We are all eager to finish 2017 on a high note. We have had a very good half season and we need to take three points to keep in touch with the sides above us," said Valère Germain of the visit of Troyes, who lost 6-0 when they last came to the Vélodrome in August 2015.
Impressive Khaoui to face parent club
The current Troyes side should be an altogether different proposition, though. ESTAC are playing some fine football under Jean-Louis Garcia and already have three more points than they managed in the whole of the 2015-16 campaign, when they finished bottom.
Troyes come into the midweek round in 14th place, just three points clear of the bottom three but also just three points adrift of RC Strasbourg Alsace in eighth. They are fresh from beating Amiens SC 1-0 at the Stade de l'Aube at the weekend thanks to Stéphane Darbion's late strike. That ended a run of three successive defeats, although they pushed both PSG and Monaco close away from home in that run, losing 2-0 at the Parc des Princes and going down 3-2 in the principality after being two goals ahead with 20 minutes remaining.
Particularly impressive for them this season have been two loan signings - South Korean Suk Hyun-Jun is their top scorer with five league goals after joining from FC Porto, while Saîf-Eddine Khaoui has contributed four goals since arriving from OM. The latter, a slightly-built 22-year-old attacking midfielder, will be able to face his parent club here in a huge boost to Troyes.
Highlights: Darbion scores as Troyes edge out Amiens
"He is a player with huge potential. He still needs to make progress in certain areas, but he can impose himself one day at a big club like Marseille," said Jean-Louis Garcia of Khaoui, who made just nine league appearances for OM last season, including a single start.
Khaoui's performances in southern Champagne country have reportedly attracted attention from leading foreign sides, and Marseille assistant Frédéric Bompard said: "Of course we are keeping an eye on him. We know everything that he is doing, and we are not surprised. Even if he had less game time with us last season, we knew he was a good young player."
Marseille: Mandanda; Sarr, Rami, Rolando, Amavi; Lopez, Luiz Gustavo; Thauvin, Sanson, Payet; Germain
Troyes: Samassa; Deplagne, Giraudon, Hérelle, Traoré; Azamoum, Bellugou; Grandsir, Khaoui, Darbion; Suk