Olympique de Marseille are under pressure to finish 2018 with a win when they visit Angers SCO on Saturday looking to put an end to a dreadful recent run of form.
Angers SCO - Olympique de Marseille
Rudi Garcia's side have not won a game in almost a month, since a 3-1 success at Amiens SC in late November. The gloom had already descended over the club before they limped out of the Coupe de la Ligue on Wednesday, losing 4-2 on penalties at home to RC Strasbourg Alsace after a 1-1 draw at a sparsely populated Orange Vélodrome.
That result closed off another route to potential silverware this season, a week after a miserable UEFA Europa League group stage campaign ended in a 3-1 home defeat against Apollon Limassol of Cyprus.
However, finishing on the Ligue 1 Conforama podium has always been the main objective for this season after they fell just short at the end of the last campaign. And yet OM have been left kicking their heels in the last couple of weeks, the wave of postponements as a result of ongoing 'gilets jaunes' protests in France putting paid to their games against AS Saint-Etienne and Girondins de Bordeaux.
Marseille have not played a league game since losing 3-2 at FC Nantes on December 5, and they come into the final weekend before the winter break in sixth place, five points adrift of Olympique Lyonnais in third, albeit with a game in hand. Couting the loss on penalties against Strasbourg, OM have been on the losing side in eight of their last 11 games in all competitions. They have lost just one game fewer this season than in the whole of the last campaign.
"We feel that nothing is going for us. We are trying to find solutions, we are working hard in training, but it is not paying off. We need to keep believing and being positive in order to turn things around," said Adil Rami, the World Cup-winning defender who missed the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Strasbourg.
"Of course it is becoming difficult. The match at Angers is very important and there is still the second half of the season to come. It is up to us as players, and especially the experienced ones, to set an example and work hard over the holidays. We need to be at 100 percent when we come back to wipe out the errors from the first half of the season."
At least there is good news this weekend with Florian Thauvin, their leading scorer with 13 goals in all competitions, able to return after serving a one-match ban.
"We have games in hand. The league table doesn't really tell the whole story just now but we will be in the race as long as we can pick up points," declared Dimitri Payet, who had a penalty saved during the 90 minutes against Strasbourg before hitting the post with his kick in the shoot-out.
Opponents Angers are likely to be a little rusty, with the postponements of their games against Bordeaux and Amiens SC meaning they have not played at all since a 0-0 draw at OGC Nice on December 4.
Trio banned for Angers
Stéphane Moulin's side, who are two points above the bottom three coming into the weekend, are unbeaten in four games. However, they have drawn their last three matches and have managed just one win in 10 outings in all competitions. That means they will be eager to get back out on the field, even if the Angers players have appreciated the extra time with their families over the last two weekends.
"It is good, but we are not used to it. The match at the weekend is a bit of a reference point for us. When it is taken away, we are a bit lost," said defender Romain Thomas.
Angers, whose only home wins this season have come against high-flying LOSC and Montpellier Hérault SC, are without three key players due to suspension for the game at the Stade Raymond-Kopa.
Defender Mateo Pavlovic, midfielder Cheikh Ndoye and ever-present goalkeeper Ludovic Butelle are all banned. The latter, who was sent off at the end of the draw at Nice, will be replaced between the posts by Zacharie Boucher.
Angers: Boucher; Bamba, Traoré, Thomas, Capelle; Tait Santamaria, Mangani; Reine-Adelaïde, Bahoken, Fulgini
Marseille: Mandanda; Sarr, Rami, Rolando, Sakai; Lopez, Strootman, Luiz Gustavo; Thauvin, Ocampos, Payet