As part of our comprehensive look around the European football leagues for maximum betting value, this week we head to Marseille. The team from the south of France used to be the leading team in Ligue 1, but the champion of Europe in 1993 is now in the doldrums. Will it take the chance at a resurgence against Lyon on Sunday? We find out, and give you some top bets and picks.
Marseille had a difficult time last season, having started full of hope under Argentine genius Marcelo Bielsa, the man who inspired Pep Guardiola's coaching style. The team had topped the table at times, before falling foul of the gravy train French football sometimes resembles, being beaten to the Champions League places by Paris Saint Germain, Monaco and Lyon.
The result of this was major cuts in the club's wage bill, with Andre Ayew and Andre-Pierre Gignac among the players leaving for better-paying clubs elsewhere. Florian Thauvin was sold to Newcastle United. Bielsa followed after only one game of the new season, in an example of his renowned eccentricity.
What Marseille has left is a good group of players, but missing that bit of magic the team had before. Spanish former Real Madrid midfielder Michel, who had been coaching at Olympiakos in Greece prior to his appointment, has tried to raise the morale of his team, but prior to the 4-1 home thrashing of Bastia last time out, "l'OM" (the club's full name is Olympique Marseille) had been hovering above the relegation places.
Loan and free-transfer players have been brought in, with Mauricio Isla joining on loan from Juventus (the Chilean having previously been at Queen's Park Rangers), and Remy Cabella going home on loan after a difficult year at Newcastle, seeming better suited to the more relaxed rhythm of French football. Most intriguingly, Lassana Diarra was brought in, a free agent after a contract dispute with Lokomotiv Moscow forced the former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid midfielder to take a year off football.
Lyon, back in the Champions League, has more to smile about than its opponent on Sunday. Although the opening five domestic games has brought two wins, two draws and a defeat, Lyon still lies sixth in the table, two points better-off than Marseille.
Perhaps Lyon's biggest victory of the summer was holding onto striker Alexandre Lacazette, tipped to be joining Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid and a whole host of other clubs, but kept in France for a new four-year contract, thanks in part to the influence of Lyon's belligerent chairman, Jean-Michel Aulas. Lacazette scored 27 league goals last season, and is a key reason why the former champion side is back in the Champions League.
Another signing to bring joy to anyone who likes good football is Mathieu Valbuena, the 30 year-old former Marseille midfielder, the shortest man at the last World Cup, brought in from Dynamo Moscow on a three-year deal. Valbuena might be a slight player, but he makes up for this with stunning free-kicks, and a killer pass in the final third. Striker Nabil Fekir, who started the season well, will on the other hand be a major loss, out with a serious injury.
Lyon drew with Lille last time in Ligue 1, and will hope to kick on and get an away win at the Stade Velodrome, especially as there is already five points' distance between it and PSG at the top of the table.
Prediction and Top Bets
Both teams have had below-par starts to the Ligue 1 season, although Lyon has the stronger squad and, playing Champions League on Wednesday, does not have Marseille's problem, namely that the home side must play a Europa League game on Thursday and get ready within three days for a domestic game.
Although the completely open Velodrome, with its atmosphere akin to a Roman amphitheatre, is a challenging place to visit, this game still looks like Lyon's for the taking, particularly given the extra day's rest the stronger squad has.
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