Prior to a rather expected loss in the Champions League quarter-final to a Bayern Munich side that keeps going from strength to strength, Marseille were held to a draw by a Nice side that is battling the drop.
That draw continued a dismal run of form for Marseille that, including that loss to Bayern Munich, has seen them lose 8 of their last 9 games. This run includes 7 consecutive losses, 5 of which are in the league alone.
Amazingly, prior to that free fall, Marseille were flying high. Despite a slow start to the season that saw them go winless in their first 5 league fixtures, Didier Deschamps steadied the ship and guided L’OM to a run of 16 games undefeated, inclusive of 8 consecutive victories. Indeed, it has been quite the rollercoaster season for Marseille, one that has left their fans feeling a wide range of emotions.
At this moment, however, the emotion fans can’t help but feel is one of dismay. How could their beloved team — the same one that won the league in the 09/10 season and came second last campaign — be all of a sudden straggling in 9th place with a huge gap of 20 points separating them from 1st-place? Flix & Trix is on the case…
Is it the Defense?
That’s a good question. It’s easy to look at the Ligue 1 table, see that Marseille have the 4th best defence in the league (30 goals conceded) and conclude that the answer is no, but there is a lot of reading to do between the lines.
First of all, while Marseille have hardly chucked goals, they have often chucked leads, and by extension, points. To be specific, Marseille have thrown away 12 leads over the course of this season. Whether 1-goal leads or 2-goal leads, Marseille have developed a genuine problem when it comes to protecting their lead in matches. Of these 12 cases, only 4 times did L’OM have the character to push on and reclaim all 3 points. The majority — 6 to be exact — of these cases ended in draws, while they went on to lose all the points on 2 occasions.
In all, Marseille threw away 20 points. Interestingly enough, when one factors in the gap between L’OM and PSG and Montpellier, who are joint top of the league, it means that Marseille should’ve been at the table’s summit. That said, they only have themselves to blame for the position they’re in.
They’ve lost 9 times already. The last time they lost anwhere near that figure was in the 07/08 season when they lost 10 times and finished 3rd, 17 points off then-champions Lyon. Even then, Marseille finished the season with 62 points, an average of 1.6 points per game.
This season, Marseille are averaging 1.4 points per game — their lowest points per game average since the 01/02 season, when they finished, interestingly, 9th. If they keep that up, they’ll finish the season with 52 points, already ruling them out of a top 3 finish. Such is the cost of failing to hold on to a lead. It’s sad in fact, because Marseille’s defence, generally speaking, is quite good.
The fact that they allow the least amount of shots by opponents (9.2) is quite impressive as is the fact that they concede the 6th lowest amount of fouls per game (14.8). Thus, Marseille’s inability to hold on to a lead isn’t born from a lack of team effort; it boils down to individual mistakes.
Marseille are the 5th most ill-disciplined team in the league, collecting 60 yellow cards and 4 red cards over the course of the season. The reality is that defenders concede needless fouls in dangerous positions and make amateurish mistakes, causing the team to be punished as a result. The stats show that the defence has the ability, but concentration is sorely lacking. Didier Deschamps, who knows a thing or two about defending from his playing days, needs to restore focus to his rearguard. However, problems don’t exist solely at the back for Marseille.
Indeed, Marseille have struggled for goals this season. Another reason why it’s a hard battle for them to make it home with all 3 points is because they simply don’t kill teams off.
To compare, Montpellier have a similar problem defensively, where they make many needless mistakes at the back, causing them to either fall behind or surrender leads. However, their potency in front of goal compensates for that — they are joint top scorers in the league with 53 goals.This potency has seen them overturn deficits and win games.
Marseille haven’t compensated for their mistakes at the back. They have scored a mere 36 goals thus far this season, an average of 1.2 per game. At that rate, they would end the season with 47 goals scored — surely a below-par tally.
This season, Marseille have been very wasteful in front of goal. Despite the fact that they take the most amount of shots per game (16.2), their chance conversion rate stands at a mediocre 7.7%, the second worst in the league behind Brest. Loic Remy, as highly regarded as he is, hasn’t been at his best in the final third. He leads the way for Marseille with 10 league goals, but his chance conversion rate of 13.2% doesn’t measure up with the league’s leaders.
League top scorer, Montpellier’s Olivier Giroud (18 goals), has a chance conversion rate of 16.1%; PSG’s Nene (13 goals) has a chance conversion rate of 15.5%; Lille’s Eden Hazard (13 goals) has a conversion rate of 17.1%; and Lyon’s Bafetimbi Gomis (12 goals) has a conversion rate of 16.2%.
Just as outlined concerning Marseille’s defence, it’s not a case of a lack of ability with the attackers. They have the 3rd highest amount of shots on target per game (5.3), though a high proportion of these are from long range. Also, they are caught offside the least amount of times per game in the league (1.4), they attempt the 2nd highest amount of crosses, and the 3rd most dribbles (both per game). The club also has the 2nd highest ball possession average (55%) in Ligue 1. So obviously, the problem again is a lack of focus when it matters most. Also, the point “possession doesn’t win games” is reiterated.
11 of their goals have come from set-pieces. Many of the 11 assists amassed by Mathieu Valbuena have come via this route. However, Marseille need to regain their deadliness in open play. It must be said that Loic Remy shouldn’t be relied upon as heavily as he is. Andre Ayew (7 goals) and Valbuena (4 goals) have tried to help out, but the likes of André-Pierre Gignac needs to stand up and be counted. If he can’t do the job, then Deschamps would be wise to do some meaningful transfer business in the summer.
All in all, Marseille, who are statistically the 4th best team in Ligue 1 this season (with a rating of 6.68), are not at all a hopeless case. The ability is definitely there as the stats show, but the problem lies within the players’ minds. Didier Deschamps needs to lift his squad if he is to lift their season away from the dark trench to which it is headed. We’ve seen Claudio Ranieri dismissed by Inter Milan after a similar poor run of form. Although the Marseille hierarchy have been quite patient thus far, Deschamps would be wise not push it.
*- Stats & rating (out of 10) courtesy of whoscored.com