Turbulent is a polite way to describe Marseille’s 2021. However, since the arrival of Jorge Sampaoli in early March, things appeared to have settled down both on and off the pitch.
Sampaoli has started his Marseille reign well with four wins from his first six matches and a total of 13 points. He also appears to have gotten the players motivated and playing for him after a mixed set of performances throughout the course of the season.
Jorge Sampaoli is Setting up Foundations for Success at Marseille
Four Wins from First Six Represents a Strong Start
Sampaoli’s arrival at the start of March was met with much trepidation from the Marseille fans. However, he appears to have proven his doubters wrong with a strong start to life in the South of France.
Four wins from his first six represents an excellent start for the charismatic Argentinian. Impressively, all four of his victories have come at the Stade Velodrome. Sampaoli has turned Marseille’s home ground into something of a fortress with Rennes, Dijon, Brest and Lorient all leaving the Velodrome empty-handed. They’ve scored nine goals in those four matches and certainly played the football Sampaoli wants from his side.
Sampaoli is yet to pick up an away victory but has only faced two away fixtures thus far. A heavy defeat to local rivals Nice and a pulsating six-goal thriller with Montpellier saw the points shared. Granted he has only been in a short time but Sampaoli will want to improve their results and performances away from home.
But take nothing away from him, it has been a strong start to life in Ligue 1 for Sampaoli who enjoying his first few weeks in France.
Sampaoli Has Galvanised an Underperforming Squad
The Marseille squad has performed well below par all season. Dumped out of the Champions League acrimoniously with six defeats out of six combined with poor league performances and a severe lack of points.
However, since Sampaoli’s arrival, the players appear to be getting back to their best. Sampaoli has largely set up with a back three that has gone to five on certain occasions. The players have thrived in the new set up and goals, crucially, are coming from all areas of the team.
Sampaoli has unlocked the quality in Dimitri Payet. The former West Ham United playmaker has been in scintillating form since Sampaoli took over. He scored a crucial goal in the recent win against Lorient but impressively, Payet has five assists in six matches under Sampaoli. His trickery and quality has been there for all to see in recent weeks having struggled for form and confidence under Andre Villas-Boas.
Another man thriving under Sampaoli is the talented Brazilian attacker Luis Henrique. The 19-year-old, a summer arrival from Botafogo, has found his feet in French football under Sampaoli. He managed no goals and one assist under Andre Villas-Boas and caretaker manager Nasser Larguet but while he is yet to score for Marseille, he’s added another three assists to his tally. He’s been a regular under Sampaoli and appears full of confidence having struggled since his big move from Brazil.
Florian Thauvin’s return from injury has also been a major plus. In an injury-hit season, Marseille’s main man has struggled but Sampaoli has got him going again. A goal and an assist for Thauvin who has been used in a newer left wing-back role, has helped Marseille.
The players are clearly playing for the manager who has certainly made a positive impression on the squad.
A Rocky Ship Has Been Steadied Since Jorge Sampaoli Arrived
When Sampaoli arrived, Marseille were in complete disarray on and off the pitch. On the pitch, Marseille had won just two of their 15 previous league games and lost seven of those. While things off it were no better, fan protests, rioting and the sale of Morgan Sanson prompted major unrest.
The scenes of fans throwing missiles and smoke bombs at the Marseille training ground were shocking and emphasised the severe off-field issues. Marseille are also struggling financially as are many Ligue 1 clubs due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as well as the collapse of the major television deal in the country.
Their financial worries prompted a fire sale of Morgan Sanson to Aston Villa for £14 million. A cut-price deal with Sanson close to reaching the final twelve months of his contract. This caused further anger amongst fans and Andre Villas-Boas who was equally unhappy with the signing of Celtic midfielder Olivier Ntcham to replace him.
Consequently, the Portuguese manager resigned but was suspended by the club after making an astonishing attack on the club. He would eventually be sacked with Nasser Larguet taking over temporarily. Larguet couldn’t stem the tide and ultimately Sampaoli was appointed. This while chairman Jacques-Henri Eyraud left his role – he was replaced by Pablo Longoria who immediately went after Sampaoli.
Amazingly, Sampaoli appears to have steadied a ship that was heading towards the rocks. While there may still be unrest with the fans towards the owners of the club, Sampaoli has done everything he can in his power to keep them happy.
He is delivering results and quality performances on the pitch. The players are motivated and it appears all is calm for now at the top of the club. Huge credit to him having been largely unwanted when he first arrived.
Securing Europa League Football is the Primary Objective
With the Champions League places out of reach for this season, Sampaoli’s primary focus is securing a top-six finish and Europa League football. They are in a healthy position to do that with fifth place up for grabs.
They sit sixth, a point behind Lens who are having a season to remember. However, Marseille are being hunted down by improving Rennes who have turned a corner since Bruno Genesio arrived in Brittany. He, too, took over at the same time as Sampaoli following Julian Stephan’s resignation.
Marseille face five important fixtures to secure Europa League football for next season. They face five sides who are all below them in the table with four of them set in the bottom half. They face an efficient Reims side first before a home tie with Strasbourg who are still looking to ensure their survival.
Their final three fixtures see them travel to Saint-Etienne, welcome Angers to the Velodrome and travel to Metz on the final weekend of the season. Five very winnable matches remaining for Jorge Sampaoli and a great opportunity to continue their excellent run of form.
Champions League Football and a Title Charge the Ultimate Goal
Sampaoli hasn’t arrived in France just to tick along in football, he wants success. Champions League football is the target next season having tasted it during the course of this season.
However, they will be extremely disappointed with how open the title race has been this season and they are not involved. Three points separate Ligue 1’s top four with just five rounds of games to play. Marseille will want to be in amongst it next season and laying foundations this season could be the platform to really charge next season.
Sampaoli has made an excellent start but he will not want to make up the numbers, he will want to make an impact. Marseille have been up and down for several seasons but with Sampaoli, they have a great chance at winning a trophy.
A strong start has ignited belief in the players, Marseille hierarchy and the fans. Les Phoceens have a very bright future under Jorge Sampaoli if they can maintain the start he has made.
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