Kevin Strootman has called on Olympique de Marseille's passionate fans to put aside their differences with the team and give them wholehearted support when LOSC Lille arrive at the Stade Orange Vélodrome on Friday.
Olympique de Marseille - LOSC Lille
'Let's stand together' is Marseille's sales pitch to fans ahead of the game against the second-placed visitors, who are unlikely to have much sympathy for Rudi Garcia's men and the troubled times they have been enduring of late.
The Week 20 1-1 draw at home to AS Monaco — second from bottom of the table — earlier this month ended with disgruntled fans cheering opposition passes, and concluded in an angry confrontation between supporters and players.
Tempers were hardly calmed by the 2-1 loss at AS Saint-Etienne that followed, though last weekend's 1-0 victory at SM Caen ended a five-game winless streak and lifted the clouds a little, leaving Strootman hopeful the team would be able to count on the supporters' backing.
"It's difficult for the fans," admitted the Netherlands international midfielder, who acknowledged the shock Coupe de France Round of 64 defeat to amateur side Andrézieux that meant 2019 started with a whimper had fanned the flames of discontent.
"I understand their anger when we lose to a fourth division team. It's serious for everyone. I hope they'll be behind us for 90 minutes. They can be annoyed before and after the game, but they have to encourage us during it. I saw what the atmosphere was like for the European games last season, and it's really a bonus for the team."
Morgan Sanson's goal early in the second half at Caen left OM seventh, six points outside the top three — the only places that offer UEFA Champions League football next season — and nine points behind their Week 22 opponents.
"We've taken four points from the last three games, even if I think we would have deserved to take seven. I hope the win against Caen will see us go on a positive run," said Strootman, who should feature in an OM side missing a number of key players, including captain Dimitri Payet, injured in Normandy, as they seek to avenge the 3-0 loss in Lille in Week 8.
"Lille is an important match. A lot of players are missing, some are suspended, there are injuries, but that's just the way it is. We have 23 players who can play every game. We know that it'll be an important game.
"We're going through a difficult spell, but we're still in the hunt. In the league, teams are dropping points. Lille are a strong team. In the first game this season, we deserved to lose. We have to do everything to win and climb the table."
Lille's outlook may appear to be a lot rosier right now, but Christophe Galtier — a former Marseille player and assistant coach — was far from happy with his side following their midweek Coupe de France win against fourth division amateurs Sète.
"It was a very tough match due to the quality of our opponent's play. Sete played the game they had to. We were never able to respond to the questions they asked of us," said Galtier, who saw Jonathan Bamba net the only goal of the game early in the second half.
"We were under pressure a lot: numerous attacks, corners, we were beaten in every area. We qualified with a lot of luck. We didn't put in the ingredients needed for a Coupe de France game. We sneaked through."
Marseille can look to Galtier's men for inspiration. The northerners hit their own bump in the road when they failed to win in four before Christmas, but — with last week's 2-1 win against Amiens SC — they have now lost just once and won four times in their last six league games to remain at the head of the pack chasing leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
Marseille: to follow
Lille: to follow