Europe beckons as ambitious Marseille closes in on 5th place
ABS-CBN Sports on May 12, 2017 10:57 AM
FILE- In this Friday, March 10, 2017 file photo, Marseille's forward Florian Thauvin, reacts after scoring during the League One soccer match between Marseille and Angers, at the Velodrome Stadium. Getting Marseille back into Europe is a crucial part of American owner Franck McCourt’s “Champions Project “ and his players can take a big step toward that with a good performance away to Bordeaux on Sunday, May 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
PARIS (AP) — Getting Marseille back into Europe is part of American owner Franck McCourt's ambitious "Champions Project."
Marseille is aiming for fifth place in the French league and a spot in next season's Europa League. Standing in the way is sixth-place Bordeaux, which is one point behind and hosts Marseille on Sunday.
Matches between the sides are often fiercely contested, even rough at times, and Marseille has not won at Bordeaux in the league since 1977.
With two matches remaining, a draw arguably suits Marseille since it then concludes at home game against last-place Bastia, while Bordeaux will travel to play Lorient — which is in 17th place and has a much better chance of avoiding relegation.
"We're not going (to Bordeaux) for a draw," said veteran Marseille defender Patrice Evra, who joined in January from Italian champion Juventus. "If we don't finish in the top five, I will have failed in my mission coming here."
When McCourt, the former owner of baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers, took charge last October, he pledged to make Marseille competitive on all fronts by investing 200 million euros ($210 million) over four years and by immediately hiring French coach Rudi Garcia.
Marseille, the only French team to win the Champions League, has won the French title nine times but has fallen behind Paris Saint-Germain since that club was taken over by Qatari investors five years ago. Last season, Marseille finished 13th — 48 points behind champion PSG.
Evra was one of Marseille's key signings in January, along with playmaker Dimitri Payet from West Ham and attacking midfielder Morgan Sanson from Montpellier. Evra and Payet are both established France internationals and Marseille's nine-game unbeaten run has been aided by their return to full fitness.
The 35-year-old Evra even scored last weekend — a rarity — netting the winner to hand third-place Nice only its third loss of the season.
Marseille played dour soccer last season and sometimes struggled for goals. But there has been a transformation under Garcia, who led Lille to the league and cup double and competed well in Serie A during his three years as Roma coach.
With Payet, Sanson and 19-year-old Maxime Lopez — one of the rising stars of French soccer — as chief creators, the forwards have thrived in a rejuvenated attack.
Center forward Bafetimbi Gomis has led the line with a career-high 18 league goals, while winger Florian Thauvin — a Premier League outcast at Newcastle last year — has netted 15 for another personal best.
But Bordeaux has attacking merit of its own, and under coach Jocelyn Gourvennec the team is playing an effective brand of vibrant, attacking soccer.
Gourvennec, a stylish midfielder once touted as a future France playmaker, played for Marseille in 1998-99 before being loaned out. After six seasons learning the trade as Guingamp coach, he stepped up a level this season by taking charge of Bordeaux.
He has transformed a youthful side from an inconsistent team often defending poorly into one of the most attractive teams to watch.
Monaco can earn its first French title since 2000 by beating Lille at home if Paris Saint-Germain fails to win at Saint-Etienne.
Monaco has done things in style, scoring 150 goals in all competitions and needing only two more to reach 100.
With a game in hand on PSG, Monaco has two more matches following this weekend to beat PSG's huge tally of 102 league goals from last season — although PSG's tally of 96 points is beyond reach.
Radamel Falcao has formed a lethal partnership with 18-year-old Kylian Mbappe, with the pair sharing 53 goals. Falcao needs only one more to reach 20 league goals for the fourth time in his career.
A far cry from the last season, when Falcao scored only one during a miserable loan spell with Premier League club Chelsea.
PSG stands on the verge of losing its league tile but is close to defending another one.
PSG is well clear of second-place Lorient and third-place Guingamp in the trophy awarded for the best playing surface in the league.
That will be scant consolation if Monaco wins the league this weekend, however.