Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin could start a game together for the first time in nine months as Olympique de Marseille look to strengthen their grip on second place in Ligue 1 Conforama with victory at Montpellier Hérault SC.
Thauvin - who scored 16 goals and assisted eight for OM last season - damaged his ankle ligaments in September, an injury that ultimately required surgery, before making his long-awaited return last Friday when he replaced Payet for the final 10 minutes of the 2-2 draw with Amiens SC.
It was a bittersweet end to the game for the 27-year-old France international, with Marseille seeing goals from Morgan Sanson and Payet cancelled out by Serhou Guirassy and Saman Ghoddos in the dying embers. Despite the draw, André Villas-Boas's men remain Paris Saint-Germain's closest pursuers, with a six-point gap on third-placed Stade Rennais FC.
Watch: Highlights of Marseille's 2-2 draw with Amiens
"It's my fault," reflected the Portuguese tactician in the bowels of the Orange Vélodrome. "We controlled the match at 2-0 and it's my responsibility. We lost two points at home again. The good news is that Thauvin played and had a couple of chances to score. His playing time will gradually increase."
A long time coming
The last time Payet and Thauvin started together was in May 2019, when Thauvin scored to give Marseille a 1-0 over Montpellier on the final day of the 2018/19 campaign. He may have to settle for a run-out in the second half on Saturday, with Bouna Sarr set to start on the opposite flank to Payet after winning high praise from his coach.
"I was very happy to give him the captain's armband the other day because I view him as a leader," Villas Boas said of the versatile right-sider. "The effort he puts in and his attitude with the squad are impressive. He remains our most used player this season either as a winger or full-back. Maybe he'll be captain next season."
Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda remains the club captain for now, with Thauvin and Payet as deputies. He will not have the suspended Alvaro Gonzalez or a Nemaja Radonjic wrestling with a groin injury to lead out at the Stade de la Mosson on Saturday, but Marseille have an otherwise full-strength squad to call upon.
Marseille and Montpellier drew 1-1 in September's reverse fixture, Les Phocéens recovering from a rare Sarr own goal with Valère Germain finding the equaliser. La Paillade's form has dipped rather more significantly than Marseille's since, though.
Watch: Highlights of Montpellier's 5-0 loss to Rennes
Michel Der Zakarian's men lost 5-0 at Rennes last Sunday, which was their third defeat in four. Montpellier have slipped from fifth to eighth over the last month and are nine points behind LOSC, who occupy the fourth and final European place.
'Want to hang on'
"We want to hang on," Der Zakarian said at his post-match press conference. "We believe in this squad. We've dipped a bit but we're still in the race. Fourth will be difficult but fifth or sixth is possible. If Paris win both Cups, which can happen, it'll be up to us to win all of our games."
Montpellier will have to try and win at least some of those games without their own first-choice right wing-back Arnaud Souquet, the former OGC Nice man not yet back in full training having picked up a knock in the Round 26 loss at Angers SCO. Midfielder Keagan Dolly is also out with a thigh complaint.
Montpellier: Rulli; Mendes, Hilton, Congré; Sambia, Le Tallec, Savanier, Oyongo; Mollet; Laborde, Delort
Marseille: Mandanda; Sakai, Kamara, Caleta-Car, Amavi; Rongier, Strootman, Sanson; Sarr, Benedetto, Payet