OM boss Rudi Garcia cast his side as underdogs for the UEFA Europa League semi-final first-leg at home to Red Bull Salzburg on Thursday despite some red-hot form, a packed stadium and a wealth of European experience.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
UEFA Europa League, semi-final first leg
Orange Vélodrome, Marseille
Olympique de MArseille - FC Red bull Salzburg
The last time Olympique de Marseille qualified for a European final was fourteen years ago, and Thursday night's semi-final first leg at the Orange Vélodrome has everyone in the southern city hoping that France's sleeping giant is back and ready to make history.
Although a number of years have passed since former OM coach/sporting director/club legend José Anigo led Didier Drogba and co. to the UEFA Cup final against Valencia, Thursday night's clash will be the sixth European semi-final for the only French club to have lifted the Champions League trophy.
Feet on the ground
Nonetheless - and despite the scintillating form that OM showed in their 5-2 second-leg hammering of RB Leipzig in the quarters and the 5-1 league dismantling of LOSC at the weekend - OM boss Rudi Garcia considers his side underdogs against former group-stage opponents Red Bull Salzburg.
"For me, they're favourites, but we're underdogs determined to make it to the final," said the canny Garcia, keen to keep a lid on the hype surrounding his decidedly in-form side. "We already took on Salzburg, in the group stage. They beat us over there and we couldn't get the win at home. We didn't even score a goal against them."
Garcia: 'Not thinking about the final'
Goals haven't been a problem of late for Garcia's side - they have bagged no fewer than 13 in their last three outings in all competitions - but a failure to keep their feet on the ground could cost them dearly just as they are on the verge of making history.
"Honestly, I'm not thinking about the final. I have a semi-final to play with my team and that's all I'm focused on. You only make history if you play well out on the pitch," opined Garcia, with star forward Florian Thauvin evidently on the same page. "Thinking about stuff like that just puts on extra pressure. We'll do all we can to make the people of Marseille proud, and if we can make history while doing so, we'll do it with pleasure."
To get the job done, Garcia has giant Portuguese stopper Rolando back from injury to partner Adil Rami in centre of defence in a customary 4-2-3-1 formation, with Dimitri Payet to pull the playmaking strings behind lone striker Valère Germain and flanked by Florian Thauvin and Lucas Ocampos.
Luiz Gustavo and Maxime Lopez are tipped to play holding roles in midfield while Bouna Sarr (in for the injured Hiroki Sakai) and Jordan Amavi patrol the flanks. Yohan Pelé will line up between the sticks in the continued injury absence of Steve Mandanda.
Meanwhile, Salzburg coach Marco Rose has a full-strength squad to choose from and is likely to stick with his customary 4-4-2 formation based around Israeli striker Munas Dabbur.
Olympique de Marseille: Y. Pelé; B. Sarr, Rami, Rolando, Amavi; M. Lopez, Luiz Gustavo; Thauvin, Payet (c), Ocampos, Mitroglou.
FC Red Bull Salzburg: Walke; Lainer, Ramalho, Caleta-Car, Ulmer; Haidara, Samassékou, Schlager, Berisha; Hwang, Dabbur.