Can Marseille maintain momentum?

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By A. Scott

Olympique de Marseille rose to the dizzy heights of second in the Ligue 1 Conforama table in midweek, and now Rudi Garcia’s side are aiming to extend their unbeaten run as they visit Montpellier Hérault SC on Sunday.

Montpellier Hérault SC  –  Olympique de Marseille

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Marseille took advantage of defeats for both Olympique Lyonnais and AS Monaco to go second with a comfortable 3-0 win at bottom club FC Metz on Wednesday, secured thanks to goals by Florian Thauvin, Luiz Gustavo and Lucas Ocampos. It is the first time that OM have been as high as second with at least 10 games of a season played since 2014-15, the campaign under Marcelo Bielsa in which they were top of the table over the winter break before gradually falling away.

The victory in Metz, in the cold of eastern France, allowed Rudi Garcia’s side to extend their unbeaten Ligue 1 Conforama run to 10 matches, with seven wins and three draws since back-to-back defeats at Monaco (6-1) in late August and at home to Stade Rennais FC (1-3) in September had the always volatile club on the verge of a crisis. They have lost just twice in 26 league outings.

Highlights: OM too strong for Metz

The headlines just now are altogether more positive. “This is becoming serious”, said the sports daily L’Equipe on Thursday as OM stole a march on their rivals to finish as the best of the rest behind Paris Saint-Germain, who are already looking like champions-elect. However, a journey along France’s Mediterranean coast to the Stade de la Mosson should present a tougher test to Marseille than that faced in midweek.

Long way to go

“It is important to be there, but we won’t get too attached to being in this position. It was a positive day for us. But for now we will settle for picking up the points and seeing where that takes us,” said Dimitri Payet after the match at the Stade Saint-Symphorien.

His coach added: “We are a long way from the end of the season and next we will be coming up against a difficult side, a team in great form who PSG were unable to beat. We got the job done against the team who are bottom. What matters is to be as high up the table as possible come the end of the season to reach our objective of finishing in the top four. This is not the time to get carried away. Others will do that for us. We must remain humble.”

Marseille had taken as many points on their travels as PSG before the capital club’s trip to RC Strasbourg Alsace on Saturday and the prospect of facing Thauvin in particular is a frightening one for opposition defences.

Highlights: Montpellier hold Guingamp

“He is the man in form just now and is making his mark on matches,” said Garcia after Thauvin scored one goal, set up another and hit the bar in Metz. The France winger has been directly involved in six of the team’s last nine goals and his performances are making up for the struggles elsewhere in attack, with Kostas Mitroglou struggling to acclimatise and Valere Germain still without a goal since his summer signing from Monaco.

Montpellier’s mean defence

Finding the net will be a challenge in Montpellier, with Michel Der Zakarian’s side boasting the best defensive record in the division. The 2012 champions have conceded a miserly eight goals, an average of barely one every two matches. They held PSG to a 0-0 draw at home in September and are fresh from a 0-0 stalemate at Guingamp in midweek, their fourth consecutive clean sheet away from home.

“I am always looking for answers and at the moment they are all positive,” said Der Zakarian after the match in Brittany. “Even if when you draw 0-0 away you can always do better, it is still another clean sheet on our travels.”

Of more concern is an attack that has scored just 12 times, with Giovanni Sio and Casimir Ninga both finding the going tough in midweek. And while Montpellier may have finished the midweek round in seventh spot, they were just six points above the bottom three. Nevertheless, they have been beaten just once in their last 10 league games.

Vitorino Hilton should return to the starting line-up against his former club after being rested against Guingamp, where he was an unused substitute. Meanwhile, OM are withou the injured Grégory Sertic and Garcia must decide whether to rotate his squad at all with a crunch Europa League clash against Salzburg to follow next Thursday.

Probable teams

Montpellier: (To follow)

Marseille: (To follow)

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