Olympique de Marseille are still on a high after their rousing victory in the Olympico, but coach André Villas-Boas has major selection issues in defence for Sunday's game at Toulouse FC.
Toulouse FC - Olympique de Marseille
Marseille claimed their first win over bitter rivals Olypmique Lyonnais in five and a half years with a 2-1 victory at the Orange Vélodrome in their last outing just before the international break. A first-half brace by Dimitri Payet proved enough for OM to win the game, although they had to hold on in the second half after Moussa Dembélé pulled a goal back and Álvaro González was sent off.
Villas-Boas had said after the crushing 4-0 defeat away to Paris Saint-Germain late last month that home meetings with LOSC and then Lyon would represent a true test of Marseille's credentials, and they emerged from those games with six points, winning both matches 2-1. As a result, OM sat in second place over the international break. If they end the season there, Villas-Boas will have achieved his objective of bringing UEFA Champions League football back to the Vélodrome.
However, some perspective is required. Marseille were eight points behind Ligue 1 Conforama leaders PSG and also just three points better off than FC Nantes in ninth position coming into the weekend. Remarkably they have a negative goal difference, while top scorer Darío Benedetto has not found the net since getting his fifth of the season in the 3-1 defeat at Amiens SC on October 4. In Marseille's five outings since then between league and cup they have scored seven goals, but four of those have either been own-goals or penalties.
Scoring goals is therefore an issue, and yet the big concern for Villas-Boas this weekend is at the other end of the pitch. Spanish stopper González - outstanding since signing on loan from Villarreal CF in the summer – is suspended after his red card against Lyon, and will also sit out next weekend's home meeting with Stade Brestois 29. In addition, his central defensive partner, Duje Ćaleta-Car, serves a one-game ban here, while left-back Jordan Amavi is suspended too.
Youthful back line
As a result, Marseille's Portuguese coach may have to pair academy graduates Boubacar Kamara and Lucas Perrin together in the heart of his defence at Le Stadium. Kamara, of course, is a very highly-rated centre-back. Just back from France under-21 duty, this game comes the day after his 20th birthday, but Kamara has shone as a holding midfielder in OM's last two outings and losing him from that position is a setback. Meanwhile Perrin, who has just turned 21, has only made three top-flight appearances so far.
"They know each other very well. We haven't had too much time to work on it, but Lucas has done very well in his three matches," insisted Villas-Boas at a press conference on Friday.
Villas-Boas is also set to start Hiroki Sakai at left-back, with Bouna Sarr on the right, while Dutch international Kevin Strootman should come back into the line-up in midfield as Marseille chase a fourth win in five league outings and victory in Toulouse for the third season running - they won 5-2 here back in May with the currently-injured Florian Thauvin scoring twice.
"It is not an ideal situation. The ideal scenario would be to come into the game at full strength, with all our players available. We don't have much time to work because Sakai only came back on Monday and Kamara on Thursday. The work we do with the defensive line is the most important for us," said Villas-Boas.
He added: "It is difficult, that's for sure. It happened in my last season at Tottenham when (Étienne) Capoue was obliged to play in central defence. Sometimes it allows you to try out different things and that is how Lucas ended up making his first start in Ligue 1 this season."
Toulouse come into this game in the relegation zone with Antoine Kombouaré struggling to turn things around since his arrival in the Ville Rose last month. The ex-PSG coach oversaw a 2-1 win over Lille on his debut, but Toulouse have suffered three straight league defeats since then, conceding three goals each time.
They were beaten 3-0 away by Montpellier Hérault SC in their last outing, and they came into this weekend with the worst defensive record in the division, having let in 25 goals in their opening 13 matches. The new coach has a big job on his hands.
"I was not at all pleased with our performance in Montpellier, but the international break has done us good. We have done a lot of work, and now we need to go out and prove ourselves against Marseille," said Kombouaré, who was relieved to see star man Max-Alain Gradel return unscathed from duty with the Ivory Coast.
Toulouse: Reynet; Amian, Isimat-Mirin, Rogel, Sylla; Dossevi, Koné, Sangaré, Saïd; Gradel (c), Koulouris
Marseille: Mandanda (c); Sarr, Kamara, Perrin, Sakai; Rongier, Strootman, Sanson; Lopez, Benedetto, Payet