Barton ready for debut as OM face Lille
By A. Scott
Joey Barton is in line to make his Ligue 1 debut for Olympique de Marseille in Sunday night's clash with LOSC Lille at the Stade Vélodrome.
It has ultimately been a season to forget in Europe for both clubs, but there is still an awful lot left to play for on the domestic front for OM and LOSC. The standout fixture of Week 14 brings together the 2010 champions and the 2011 title winners, who are both looking to stay in contention towards the top of the table and put their midweek European exits behind them.
Two wins in 11 for OM
Marseille saw their chances of advancing to the last 32 of the Europa League ended in the wake of a 1-0 home defeat to Turkish giants Fenerbahçe on Thursday, and their attention now turns to improving on their recent stumbling league form. Élie Baup's side won their opening six games of the campaign, but have won just once in six since then, and just twice in their last 11 outings in all competitions. They slipped to fourth in the Ligue 1 table in the wake of last Sunday's 1-0 loss at Bordeaux, and their position in the top six is under threat. However, if they can beat Lille and then take three points from their rearranged home fixture with Lyon, scheduled for Wednesday, then they will be sitting pretty once again.
Baup was disappointed to see his side's European hopes brought to an end, but he has never hidden the fact that the league is the priority this season, and the former Bordeaux coach is targeting a strong run between now and Christmas.
"I am really very disappointed," he said in the wake of the Fenerbahçe defeat. "At the start of the season, playing in the Europa League helped us quickly build up a rhythm and get those six straight wins in the league. It gave us the chance to check out some of the younger players, and they did not disappoint. That is interesting for the future. It also allowed us to give game-time to fringe players, so it is a shame that it is coming to an end. Between now and the winter break it will be very important for us to pick up points. We will need to battle with all the teams up at the top in order to stay in contention."
History not on Lille's side
Meanwhile, Lille travel south knowing that history is not on their side in this fixture. After all, LOSC have won just seven times in 44 visits to the Vélodrome in the top flight, and were beaten 2-0 in last season's corresponding fixture. They saw a five-game unbeaten league run ended in a 2-0 reverse at FC Lorient last weekend, before their chances of finishing third in their Champions League group - and thereby parachuting into the Europa League - were ended despite a 2-0 victory away to BATE Borisov in midweek.
Lille coach Rudi Garcia gave a host of fringe players a run-out in that game in Minsk, and two of them, Djibril Sidibé and Gianni Bruno, got the goals. It was a positive performance, even if it was ultimately in vain.
"It is a shame that we didn't manage to take more of the numerous chances we created, but how could I not be proud of my young players," he said afterwards. "Five youngsters started the game, and they all performed as I hoped they would. It was important to gain our first points in the competition and we wanted revenge for our defeat at home to BATE in our first group game. It was the best preparation for the match at Marseille."
Mendes, Amalfitano banned
Much of the talk ahead of the game has been around the prospect of Barton making his Ligue 1 debut after finally completing a 12-game domestic suspension handed down when he was with Queens Park Rangers last season. The Englishman will hope to start in central midfield, but Baup must do without both Lucas Mendes and Morgan Amalfitano due to bans. In addition, André-Pierre Gignac is still sidelined, but Mathieu Valbuena, Loïc Rémy and Nicolas Nkoulou are all in the squad after struggling with knocks this week.
For Lille, Marvin Martin can play after missing last week's defeat at Lorient due to suspension. Aurélien Chedjou, Franck Béria and Tulio De Melo all make the squad, but Djibril Sidibé and Ryan Mendes will both miss the game because of ankle problems.
Marseille: Mandanda (c); Fanni, Diawara, Nkoulou, Morel; Kaboré, Cheyrou; Barton, Valbuena, A. Ayew; J. Ayew
Lille: Landreau; Debuchy, Basa, Chedjou, Digne; Balmont, Mavuba (c), Martin (or Gueye); Kalou, Roux, Payet