Chastened Marseille aim to bounce back
By A. Scott
With Steve Mandanda on the sidelines, Olympique de Marseille are bidding to bounce back from their stunning defeat against Nîmes Olympique when they welcome Stade Rennais FC to the Orange Vélodrome on Sunday.
Olympique de Marseille - Stade Rennais FC
Marseille's start to the campaign was so serene that nobody saw it coming. Rudi Garcia's side were full of optimism after their run to the final of the UEFA Europa League in May and they kicked off their 2018-19 season by destroying Toulouse FC 4-0 at the Vélodrome, with Dimitri Payet leading the way with a brace.
But OM were brought crashing back to earth as they lost 3-1 away to newly-promoted Nîmes at the Stade des Costières last time out, Florian Thauvin's magnificent goal that levelled the scores early in the second half ultimately proving futile.
"After Toulouse, the team was brilliant. One defeat later and we need to sign someone, the team is no good. It is the paradox and the bad side of this industry," OM president Jacques-Henri Eyraud told sports daily L'Équipe this week in reference to the contrasting reactions to their opening two matches.
Watch: Marseille are stunned by Nîmes
"The performance at Nîmes deeply disappointed me. The players were not ready for a game at that level of intensity. I expect much more from this team. But I am not forgetting, unlike so many others with short memories, that this is the team that got to the Europa League final last season. Therefore, I have confidence in the capacity of the players to bounce back."
The visit of Rennes offers the perfect opportunity to do just that, especially with Marseille so strong at home. Indeed, they have lost just one of their last 25 matches at the Vélodrome in all competitions since going down 3-1 to Rennes in last season's corresponding fixture, on September 10, 2017. They have won their last six home matches in a row, scoring 20 goals in the process.
Rennes up and running
However, Garcia was dealt a blow with the confirmation that goalkeeper Mandanda will be out for between three and four weeks after injuring his left hamstring and having to come off against Nîmes. The 33-year-old, who played once during France's victorious World Cup campaign in Russia, will be replaced by Yohann Pelé for the remaining matches before the upcoming international break.
Bouna Sarr has been hoping to feature, though, despite suffering a fractured toe last weekend. Garcia also still has Clinton Njie in his squad after the collapse of the Cameroon international's planned loan move to Portuguese giants Sporting. And OM are also set to bring in the Serbian international winger Nemanja Radonjic from Red Star Belgrade. That deal was confirmed by Eyraud after it was revealed that a long-mooted move to sign Mario Balotelli from OGC Nice had finally collapsed.
Rennes head to the Mediterranean coast buoyed after kickstarting their campaign with a 1-0 win over Angers SCO last weekend, when Ismaïla Sarr's superb late strike secured all three points at Roazhon Park. That allowed the Bretons to bounce back from a 3-1 loss at LOSC on the opening weekend, which was a disappointing way to start a season for which they have high hopes.
Watch: Sarr stunner sinks Angers
"We suffered, it was hard, but my players were stubborn. To start off at Roazhon Park with a win was the most important thing," admitted coach Sabri Lamouchi, the former Marseille midfielder who is preparing Rennes for their first European campaign in seven years.
In contrast to other clubs, changes to the playing staff over the close season were relatively limited, with Clément Grenier the only new recruit to start last week's game. Damien Da Silva and Romain Del Castillo, signed from SM Caen and Olympique Lyonnais respectively, were on the bench.
Rennes have this week been linked once again with a move for ex-OM star Hatem Ben Arfa, but they have focused much of their efforts this summer on keeping their best young players, with Jérémy Gélin extending his contract until 2022 and Senegal starlet Sarr confirming his intention to stick around for some time yet.
A big-money signing from FC Metz a year ago, Sarr's contract runs until 2021, and he said after getting the winner against Angers: "I have two or three years left on my contract. I am concentrating on my season and on Rennes. It is too early to leave."
Marseille: (To follow)
Rennes: (To follow)