Olympique de Marseille need captain Dimitri Payet to recapture his best form and drag his team out of their slump with him, boss Rudi Garcia has said.
One of Europe's most prolific assist providers in recent years as well as scoring a healthy dollop of goals himself, Payet has seen his form take a dramatic dip while — and it is surely no coincidence — OM have also become stuck in a rut.
While his team's ambitions of a top-three finish and a long-awaited return to the UEFA Champions League have taken a blow with a five-game winless run, Payet has failed to contribute to an OM goal in nine league outings.
The 31-year-old has never endured such a barren run as a Marseille player, thought finding him on the bench for all of Wednesday's 2-1 loss at one of his former clubs, AS Saint-Etienne, still came as a surprise.
Garcia, however, underlined the fact the player to whom he handed the captain's armband last season still has a key part to play at the Stade Orange Vélodrome, and his team needs him to play it.
Garcia: 'He's a top player'
"Off the pitch, the captain is perfect. He plays his role wonderfully, he takes on the responsibility, he's ready. He's the first to defend his teammates, to go into battle," explained Garcia, who first coached Payet at LOSC Lille in 2011.
"Of course we need him, he's a top player, like Flo [Thauvin]. When he's going well, the team flourishes. But I can't deny that I have found him less good since the start of the year."
The same can be said of Garcia's team, who suffered a shock defeat to amateur opponents in the Coupe de France to start the year, ending their silverware hopes just 90 minutes into 2019 after disappointments in the Coupe de la Ligue and the UEFA Europa League already.
This weekend's encounter at SM Caen is all but a 'must-win' game for the OM squad, who faced their angry fans in heated exchanges following last weekend's 1-1 home draw with AS Monaco.
"That's part of being a Marseille player," said Payet. "What's sure is that nobody hid tonight, we did our job and we have to keep on doing it now."
Midfielder Kevin Strootman added: "It depends on us. If we play good they are behind us and that makes it a lot more easy if the supporters here are behind you. We have to do everyone to get back their trust and to get back their support."