Mario Balotelli and Florian Thauvin were on target as Olympique de Marseille beat AS Saint-Etienne 2-0 at the Orange Vélodrome to leapfrog Les Verts into fourth place in Ligue 1 Conforama.
Olympique de Marseille 2-0 AS Saint-Etienne
Marseille came out of the blocks flying in front of their vehement home support and could have taken the lead inside the first ten minutes when Maxime Lopez found Balotelli unmarked at in the box, but the Italian striker was uncharacteristically slow to control, allowing ASSE goalkeeper Stéphane Ruffier to quell the danger (6'). They didn't have to wait long for the opener, though. Thauvin floated a corner into the six yard box and Balotelli was on hand to acrobatically convert his third goal in three home games since his January transfer from OGC Nice (12'). Saint-Etienne nearly returned fire when Wahbi Khazri crossed for Pierre-Yves Polomat, but Bouna Sarr was on hand to force the full-back's effort around the post for a corner (15'). OM then extended their lead from the penalty spot after Mathieu Debuchy had handled Lucas Ocampos' shot, with Florian Thauvin stroking home his 13th goal of the season (20'). Thauvin could have landed the knock-out blow when Ocampos played him in, but he missed against the odds (24'). Balotelli then found himself back defending with half an hour gone before normal service resumed soon after, with Valère Germain coming close to making it three when he headed Thauvin's cross into Ruffier's hands (45+1').
Marseille make sure
Sainté coach Jean-Louis Gasset brought striker Robert Beric on for club captain and centre-back Loïc Perrin for the second half in a tactical shift intended to get the visitors back into the game. Ruffier was once again called into action before there were any positive green shoots of attacking intent, though, with Ocampos' fizzing shot from range well met by the shot-stopper (56'). Khazri looked the most likely to give Saint-Etienne something to cheer, his free-kick on the hour headed clear by OM defender Boubacar Kamara (60'). Recognising the need for greater defensive cover, Gasset's opposite number Rudi Garcia brought on Luiz Gustavo, in place of Germain, to shore up his midfield (65'). It was Ocampos who was the next to track back, though, the Argentine in the right place at the right time to deflect Romain Hamouma's effort out for a corner (68'). At the other end, Thauvin came close with a free-kick off his own but Ruffier proved equal to it (72'). Steve Mandanda had to be on his toes to meet a Loïs Diony cross before Beric or Khazri could (75'). Balotelli then went off to a standing ovation, replaced by Clinton N'Jie (79') and Marseille closed out the win that lives them to third, a point clear of their vanquished visitors.
THE PLAYER: Mario Balotelli
Balotelli has picked up something of a bad boy reputation in a career which has already taken in spells with some of Europe's biggest clubs - Inter Milan, Manchester City, AC Milan and Liverpool as well as Nice and Marseille - but he has quickly endeared himself to the passionate Phocéen support, with his goal on Sunday making him the first player since Ibrahima Bakayoko back in 1999 to score in each of his first three home games for the southern giants.
THE STAT: 40
It is 40 years since Marseille last lost at home to Saint-Etienne. The two most successful teams in French football history (with nine top-flight titles for OM, ten for Sainté), the pair have shared Ligue 1 Conforama bragging rights for much of their storied histories. It has been lopsided at the Vélodrome, though. The last time ASSE won there was in October 1979, when Michel Platini scored the first of five Saint-Etienne goals in a 5-3 thriller.