Thauvin and Payet plotting Marseille climb
Florian Thauvin and Dimitri Payet have been in fine form for Olympique de Marseille so far this season, but they'll have their work cut out when they head to Montpellier Hérault SC's Stade de la Mosson on Sunday evening.
Montpellier Hérault SC - Olymique de Marseille
Thauvin and Payet have combined for 11 goals and 7 assists between them just 11 games into the 2018/19 Ligue 1 Conforama campaign, but having lost two of their last four league outings, they make the 100-mile journey west along the French south coast on Sunday in fifth, trailing their third-place hosts by three points.
'I feel liberated'
"I won't be able to start another season without Champions League football," was the rather ominous message Thauvin gave in French quarterly football magazine Onze Mondial this week. "In the meantime, I'll do everything possible for the club to qualify. Today, I feel good, I feel liberated. I've found stability in my life and I think it shows every week."
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Thauvin has been playing wide right in a front three in recent weeks, with OM captain Dimitri Payet in a hitherto unfamiliar role of leading the line. It failed to work for Les Phocéens last time out, with champions Paris Saint-Germain prevailing 2-0 against them last Sunday, but Payet remains upbeat.
"I didn't come back to Marseille to be quiet," he explained recently of his decision to return from West Ham. "I didn't expect the captaincy but it's an additional responsibility. I've shown that I'll do everything for this club. I completely identify with them and have not planned anything else for two or three years."
OM at full strength
Coach Rudi Garcia was sent to the stands late on against PSG and will be suspended for OM's Week 13 clash with Dijon FCO, but he'll take his place in the Stade de la Mosson dugout on Sunday, with a nigh-on full-strength squad to boot, with Portugal centre-back Rolando (Achilles) his only injury absentee.
Montpellier don't figure to be straightforward opponents, though. La Paillade beat Toulouse FC 3-0 last Saturday and have only lost once in the league all season. They could go second with a win, provided LOSC lose to leaders PSG on Friday.
Watch: Highlights of Montpellier's win over Toulouse
Michel Der Zakarian's side slipped up in the Coupe de la Ligue third round on Tuesday, though, losing 3-0 to FC Nantes with a heavily rotated side. Garcia's opposite number is likely to ring the changes after a lacklustre showing against his former employers.
'Really blew it'
"This was a terrible night for us," Der Zakarian lamented at his post-match press conference. "We were hoping to qualify but really blew it. Pedro Mendes' sending off [on 74 minutes] was just one part of it. We didn't play the match we wanted to. We'll have to analyse this defeat thoroughly and then get ready for Marseille."
Mendes - Rolando's international teammate - recently extended his contract at Montpellier and is eligible on Sunday despite his midweek red card. Further forward, Andy Delort and Gaëtan Laborde - owner of nine Ligue 1 Conforama goals between them this term - are expected to renew their partnership having been rested against Nantes.
Montpellier: Lecomte; Aguilar; Congré, Hilton, Cozza, Oyongo; Skhiri, Mollet, Le Tallec; Laborde, Delort
Marseille: Mandanda; Sarr, Rami, Kamara, Amavi; Lopez, Strootman, Luiz Gustavo; Thauvin, Germain, Payet