Certainly this loss to OM, after 11 league wins undefeated, is a disappointment, but we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: OL has taken 28 of the last 33 points on offer and remains atop L1.
As for Marseille, they have a different set of worries to deal with. Thanks to this win, they are now out of the relegation zone, where it seems they really don’t belong. Sure, the OM of today isn’t the machine it was during the summer, but they have enough talent, most notably a returning to form Samir Nasri and the nous to topple an OL side weak in attack and leaky at the back.
The Lyonnais can’t argue ignorance to explain away this defeat. The two principal dangers of OM were well known before the match: Niang up front and Mandanda at the back. One player can’t save a team on his own, but two of them can get the job done.
The game started, however, as normally as you’d like: the Lyonnais, L1 leaders, opened the scoring against the 19th-placed side in the 7th minute through Juninho, who was playing his 200th match. The story got off to an ideal start, almost an insolent one; with a header, the Brazilian nodded home after Mandanda had blocked Ben Arfa’s shot (7’). What the Olympiens didn’t know was that they had just witnessed the only “mistake” the OM keeper would make all match, despite the best efforts of the OL attack.
To get this win, OM had to make do with its means, its doubts and its certainties, the most prominent of which is the emerging phenomenon of their “Niang-dependence”. On his own, the Senegalese striker turned the OL’s defence’s night into a nightmare. Barely 2 minutes after OL had opened the scoring, he converted the penalty he was awarded after Squillaci held him back in the area (9’). Just after that, he fired over the bar (12’), saw Vercoutre fist away his acrobatic far-post volley (24’) and conspired with Mathieu Valbuena, whose shot was turned wide by the OL keeper (34’). Just before the break, he doubled OM’s advantage, rounding Cleber Anderson before firing home between the legs of Vercoutre (42’). Almost timidly by comparison, Nasri and Cana also tried their luck on goal, but without worrying the OL keeper (18’ and 39’).
At the break, Marseille’s one-goal advantage was an accurate reflection of their drive and also of the poor finishing of Alain Perrin’s men. Indeed, after opening the scoring with the first chance of the match, the Olympiens displayed a stunning lack of finesse in front of goal. An off-side Fred prevented Sidney Govou from taking Mandanda on (19’) and was then off-target with 2 headed efforts (20’ and 42’).
And when it wasn’t OL’s poor finishing that stymied Olympien ambitions, it was the heroic Mandanda.
The OM keeper denied by turns Juninho (27’), Govou (47’ and 53’), Fred (50’) and Hatem Ben Arfa (77’). When Karim Benzema came on for Fred, one imagined the prolific striker would be able to save the day in the last 15 minutes. But the France international also fell victim to the impeccable Mandanda, who saved his 3 efforts (75’, 87’ and 90’)
In fact the scoreline could have been worse for OL had Nasri (63’ and 64’), Niang (88’) and Valbuena (89’) got their shots on target and had Vercoutre not saved valiantly from the feet of Niang on 2 occasions (69’ and 70’).
It was a real shock for the Olympiens, who had strung together 9 wins and a draw from their last 10 L1 matches. The international break will give everyone a chance to find answers to the questions that must be floating around now. The Olympiens will have to do a lot better after the break against Rennes… and Barcelona.