What: Champions League – Quarter-final first leg
Who: Marseille vs Bayern Munich
When: Wednesday 28th March, 2012, at 19:45 UK Time
Where: Stade Velodrome, Marseille, France
Crisis Time at the Velodrome
If Sunday’s draw at relegation threatened Nice felt like something of a relief for 2010 Ligue 1 champions Marseille, it is some measure of how far the side have fallen in recent weeks. With that point, Didier Deschamps’ team ended a run of seven successive defeats in all competitions (albeit one of those, a 2-1 reverse at Inter, felt like a win, sending them through to this stage).
Undoubtedly the low point was last week’s defeat to third tier Quevilly in the French Cup, a shock 3-2 result after Marseille had lost their previous two league matches to Ajaccio and Dijon, both promoted from Ligue 2 last season. Remarkably, given that the south coast club had such an appalling start to the season that they found themselves bottom of Ligue 1 at one point, their recent shambolic form has been their worst of the campaign so far. Yet 2012 had started so well, with four successive Ligue 1 victories as Marseille built an impressive 16-game unbeaten run in all competitions, and they could yet become the first team in French history to win the League Cup for three years running.
That said, Marseille have been significantly better in the Champions League than their league form would suggest, given that Ligue 1’s other fallen representatives Lille and Lyon are long gone. Deschamps’ men dispatched of Inter in the last round, but perhaps more astonishing were their two victories over Borussia Dortmund in the group stage. The first, a 3-0 home win at the Stade Velodrome, was impressive enough. But then facing elimination at the group stage, and 2-1 behind with just minutes remaining, two late, late goals, including a brilliant strike from Mathieu Valbuena, rescued Marseille and sent them through.
Though Dortmund actually had much of the play in both games, there is plenty of encouragement for Deschamps from those performances. If Marseille can do that to the Bundesliga champions and league leaders, then they will tell themselves they can also perform similar heroics against Bayern Munich.
Bayern Munich on Track for Home Final
Bayern Munich would rightly point out that they have a significantly better pedigree at this level than Dortmund. Experience at this stage is vital, and the Bavarians have much of that, having reached the final in 2010. The Allianz Arena outfit came through the group stage in style, making the tricky tests of Napoli and Manchester City seem like mere formalities. And a superb run of form in Germany saw them go a club record of 1,147 minutes without conceding a goal.
The Bavarians’ form has mirrored Marseille’s this year, but in reverse. For them, 2012 started in meek fashion, giving up the Bundesliga lead to Dortmund as they struggled to find fluency or form. A defeat at the start of the year to German surprise package Borussia Monchengladbach saw Bayern Munich slip further behind Dortmund, whilst in the last round of the Champions League they suffered a major disappointment, losing 1-0 to Basel in the first leg of their tie to cap a miserable spell. Victory over Schalke seemed to have restored form before another worrying reverse to Bayer Leverkusen.
But then the floodgates opened. A 7-1 win over Hoffenheim was followed by a 7-0 victory over Basel and a 6-0 thrashing of Hertha Berlin. This weekend’s 2-1 win over Hanover was less spectacular, but continued the winning trend ahead of a big tie for Jupp Heynckes and his side, who have their sights set on reaching the final at their home ground in May. It is an aspiration which has eluded everyone in the Champions League era, but Bayern Munich are well placed to make history.
Marseille 1-2 Dijon (17/03; Ligue 1)
Quevilly 3-2 Marseille (20/03; Coupe de France)
Nice 1-1 Marseille (24/03; Ligue 1)
Hertha Berlin 0-6 Bayern Munich (17/03; Bundesliga)
Borussia Moenchengladbach 0-0 Bayern Munich [2-4 on penalties] (21/03; DFB Pokal)
Bayern Munich 2-1 Hanover (24/03; Bundesliga)
Marseille: Loic Remy (doubt); Steve Mandanda; Souleymane Diawara
Bayern Munich: Daniel van Buyten; Bastian Schweinsteiger; Breno
Players to watch
Marseille – Mathieu Valbuena: Valbuena was the man who got Marseille to the knockout stage with arguably the goal of the tournament so far, a wonderful individual effort which married skill, guts, intelligence and determination in one, with the last kick of the game against Dortmund back in December. And for all the despondency at the Stade Velodrome, Valbuena’s form has been a shining light in a disappointing year, without which things would be so much worse. He has set up more goals than anyone else in Ligue 1, and when he plays well, so do his team. And for them to have a chance here, he will be called upon to show what he can do once more.
Bayern Munich – Franck Ribery: Ribery will be up against his former team and determined to show his worth to his countrymen ahead of this year’s European Championships. Last time the winger played French opposition, he was sent off against Lyon in the semi-final in 2010. Ribery’s pace and skill out wide could cause this leaky Marseille defence all kinds of problems. However, Deschamps’ side have shown this season that, if not in France, they are organised defensively in Europe and no walkover. The key to unlocking the French side’s defence will lie in Bayern making the best use of their wide men. With Arjen Robben likely to strike most fear into the Marseille backline, it would be easy to forget about Ribery. And that is without even touching on the four-goal hero of the last round, Mario Gomez.
Marseille come into this match without confidence, and possibly without Loic Remy, who is struggling with a thigh injury. His return for the Bayern game will be crucial, as the pacey forward has been one of the few bright spots this season for OM. Despite the difficulties Marseille have the personnel to cause Bayern problems; Valbuena can pick holes in a defence that is weakened by the absence of former Marseille defender Daniel van Buyten, whilst the direct running of the Ayew brothers caused Arsenal trouble earlier this year and can do the same to the Germans.
Yet it is difficult to look beyond Bayern, even if they are without Bastian Schweinsteiger. Ribery and Robben will cause Marseille problems and it is hard not to see the tournament’s top marksman, Mario Gomez, scoring. And the defence that went so long without conceding a goal earlier this year looks like it is moving towards being a solid unit once more. It is hard to see the Germans being beaten by a team who have struggled against all and any opposition of late. Ultimately, Bayern’s pace and width should be too much for a Marseille side short of confidence. Marseille 0-3 Bayern Munich.
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