McCourt's Marseille taking shape; Metz up next
Olympique de Marseille head to struggling FC Metz on Friday armed with a host of new players who are beginning to click into gear under coach Rudi Garcia.
FC Metz - Olympique de Marseille
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Marseille chairman Frank McCourt added another couple of strings to his "OM Champions" project bow this week with the additions of Dimitri Payet and Grégory Sertic. Les Phocéens' make the 800-kilometre trip north to Lorraine on Friday having enjoyed an equally significant journey up the table since the U.S. billionaire's takeover in October, climbing from 12th to sixth.
Another slice of Payet
The signing of Payet is perhaps OM's most significant of the season so far. The France midfielder left the Stade Vélodrome for West Ham United FC and the riches of the English Premier League in June 2015 with a heavy heart, with OM - the club he supported - unable to match the income on offer. That financial disparity has been removed and Payet - who returns as a UEFA EURO 2016 finalist - is delighted to be back under the tutelage of Garcia, with whom he worked at LOSC between 2011 and 2013.
"The two years I had in Lille earned me my first Marseille move, and that I will not forget," said the 29-year-old at his unveiling. "[Garcia] knows me by heart. I like his way of seeing the game. When we look at the league table, three teams [AS Monaco, OGC Nice and Paris Saint-Germain] are out in front. It will be difficult to catch them but if we can finish behind that trio that means we will go to the [UEFA] Champions League."
Garcia's charges took a big step towards the top four last Friday, with Bafétimbi Gomis hitting a hat-trick in a 5-1 destruction of south coast rivals Montpellier Hérault SC. Another January arrival, Patrice Evra, made his debut in that game, and Payet is delighted to renew acquaintances with his international colleague.
"Pat wouldn't move anywhere if the project wasn't coherent," said Payet of the 81-cap France left-back, a league champion with Manchester United FC in England as well as Juventus in Italy. "I love him. We've had incredible moments with France, with him lining up behind me for many months. We know each other's games well. I'm very happy to find him here."
Payet is expected to start at the Stade Saint-Symphorien, though Evra - signed as a season-long solution to Henri Bedimo's ruptured cruciate ligament-enforced absence - picked up a thigh injury of his own in the 2-1 Coupe de France victory over Olympique Lyonnais on Tuesday. Abou Diaby remains a long-term injury doubt, with Payet competing for an advanced attacking midfield position alongside Florian Thauvin, Rémy Cabella and the nascent Maxime Lopez.
Metz haven't beaten Marseille since February 2006, when Babacar Gueye fired them to a 1-0 win, and their recent trajectory stands in stark contrast to OM's. Les Grenats' 2-1 loss to Angers SCO on Saturday - which saw Renaud Cohade and Fallou Diagne sent off - was their tenth of the season, and Philippe Hinschberger's men only have FC Lorient below them in the table, having been only two places behind Marseille in 12th when McCourt took the reins late last year.
"With 11 it was already difficult, at ten it got harder and at nine it became impossible," lamented to coach after the reversal at the Stade Jean-Bouin. "We can't hide behind the fact we had two red cards. It was a bad game."
Hinschberger will be able to call upon Cohade and Diagne against Marseille, with their suspensions not yet kicking in, though he is without Cameroon left-back Benoît Assou-Ekotto and former Lorient midfielder Yann Jouffre - both of whom have groin injuries.
Metz: Didillon; Ivan, Falette, Milan, Signorino; Philipps, Doukouré, Lejeune (c), Hein, N’Guette; Diabaté
Marseille: Pelé; Sakai, Rolando, Fanni, Rekik; Vainqueur, Sanson, Lopez; Thauvin, Gomis (c), Payet