What: France Ligue 1
Who: Marseille vs Saint-Etienne
When: Sunday 23rd December, 2012, at 20:00 UK Time
Where: Stade Velodrome, Marseille, France
Gignac Is Back
If six months ago someone told Marseille sporting director Jose Anigo that he would be relishing the day striker Andre-Pierre Gignac returned to the first team, he would probably have laughed. And rightly so, given the problems the former Toulouse man has had since arriving in the south of France. Yet on his second appearance back in the team since his broken foot earlier in the season, Gignac scored a wonderful goal from range which condemned his former team to defeat and kept Marseille right in the thick of the title race.
Having been beaten 3-0 at home by Lorient the previous week, it was just what Elie Baup needed. His side have not looked at their best for some time, having experienced a blip since their fast start to the season. Depending on how title rivals Paris Saint-Germain and Lyon fare in their respective games before Marseille take to the pitch, victory over Saint-Etienne could make Baup’s side winter champions going into the mid-season break.
That would be a remarkable turnaround from last year, when they sat eighth in the table and some way off the leaders. Yet the positive start to the season has been overshadowed by Marseille’s last two home fixtures, when they have lost successive games at the Stade Velodrome by a three-goal margin for the first time in their history. They will be determined to end that unwanted sequence.
Galtier’s Men Struggling for Goals
A month ago Christophe Galtier’s young side looked like they were the outside title challengers some thought they could be at the start of the season. Since then, they have not won a match, and although they won on penalties against Paris Saint-Germain in the Coupe de la Ligue, Les Verts have endured a home defeat by fierce local rivals Lyon and like opponents Marseille were humbled at home by Lorient.
Saint-Etienne have not actually scored a goal for a month either and their chances of ending a run of 19 games without victory at the Stade Velodrome which dates back to 1979 do not look promising. However, they have gone nine games unbeaten in all competitions away from home and their 13 goals conceded is the second best record in the league behind Paris Saint-Germain. That solidity will be critical given the lack of goals from Galtier’s men at present.
With one game before the winter break, Saint Etienne need to quickly rediscover the spirit and form that saw them end Paris Saint-Germain’s unbeaten run in Paris earlier this season. That remarkable victory could have been the catalyst for a title challenge, but having slipped away, they now need to stop the rut, and fast.
Marseille 0-3 FC Lorient (09/12; Ligue 1)
Bastia 1-2 Marseille (12/12; Ligue 1)
Toulouse 0-1 Marseille (15/12; Ligue 1)
Saint-Etienne 0-1 Lyon (09/12; Ligue 1)
Bordeaux 0-0 Saint-Etienne (13/12; Ligue 1)
Saint-Etienne 0-2 Lorient (16/12; Ligue 1)
Saint-Etienne: Banel Nicolita; Jean-Pascal Mignot; Loic Perrin; Alejandro Alonso
Players to watch
Marseille – Andre-Pierre Gignac. Gignac’s return to the team has been timely with Loic Remy unable to rediscover the form he produced before his injury last season. The powerful forward has, along with Mathieu Valbuena, been Les Phoceens player of the year so far and he can pierce Saint-Etienne’s tight rearguard. Gignac can score a goal from nothing and also link up well with Andre Ayew to provide the outlets that Valbuena and Joey Barton need to stretch opposing defences. He will be the man Galtier’s side have to watch.
Saint-Etienne – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: It cannot be a coincidence that Saint-Etienne’s decline in form has come when Aubemayang has stopped scoring. The Gabonese forward has struck eight times already this season and he is pivotal to his side. That is a third of all of Les Verts goals and he is also their joint most prolific assist provider. If the strong and pacey forward can rediscover his touch in front of goal, that can get Les Verts back on the victory trail.
This is an unusual game in that the home team seem to have the disadvantage, with both sides looking far more comfortable on their travels so far this season. Whilst Les Verts have not lost away since the second week of the season, Marseille’s away form is even better. They have picked up 21 points outside of the Stade Velodrome and only 14 at home. It is no coincidence that both have lost at home to an excellent counter attacking team in Lorient in recent weeks, in games in which they dominated possession. Both sides are better suited to countering than being countered.
Each side is hard to break down and have solid defences. Saint-Etienne, as their coach has noted, have not looked fresh lately and the lack of rotation in their squad has caused problems with some key injuries to players such as Brandao, Jean-Pascal Mignot and Alejandro Alonso. By contrast, Marseille have a fully fit squad with Joey Barton now integrated into the team and set-up. Their tough and combative midfield could enable them to dictate the game against opponents struggling to find their rhythm.
Valbuena has been one of the stars of the Ligue 1 season so far and his ability to carve open defences can be critical to the outcome of this game. If he can find spaces in between the lines, he can hurt the visitors, but they will be giving little away, and this game could descend into a cautious encounter between two sides looking to catch the other on the counter. Marseille’s fresher legs could edge it. Marseille 1-0 Saint-Etienne.
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