Under Pressure – Can Marseille hustle their way to a 10th Title?

‘Attacking pressure’: Winning the ball back from the opposition in their own half is an often-overlooked way of launching an attack in a dangerous area. French Ligue 1 leaders Olympic Marseille are one of the leading protagonists of this tactic.

The first two goals in a 3-0 win over Rennes on Saturday were a case in point. Top scorer Andre-Pierre Gignac, aiming for a recall to the national squad, fired in the first after following up a weak punch from goalkeeper Benoit Costil. His second came from collecting a botched clearance on the edge of the box.

Hustling defenders in the final third takes perseverance, and is often the sign of a hard working team that never gives up. These are some of the early hallmarks of Marcelo Bielsa’s men, who are attempting to become French champions for the 10th time. If it was not for financial problems rooted in the 1990s, the number of trophies won by France’s only European Cup winners would surely be a lot higher.

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Compared to their current top 3 rivals, Marseille created ‘dangerous events’ from 21% of their regains in the opposition half, compared to Bordeaux (9%) and Saint Etienne (4%). Reigning champions Paris St Germain register (12%) so far this season.

Last Sunday Manchester United could have benefitted from taking heed of Marseille’s work ethic. The English giants’ defence was held to account after they squandered a 3-1 lead to lose 5-3 against Leicester City. But could the finger have been pointed further up the pitch, where the likes of Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao failed to close down the long balls that troubled the United backline?

Back to France, and this Thursday sees Bordeaux and Saint Etienne clash. There is a notable discrepancy between the two teams’ goal scoring ability. While Bordeaux average 2 goals per game from their 6 fixtures thus far, Saint Etienne average just over 1. Saint Etienne might want to be extra careful to track runners into the box – Bordeaux have scored all 12 of their goals from inside the area this season, with pacy Uruguayan striker Diego Rolan netting 4.

Saint Etienne could try to improve their conversion of crosses into the box. Of the top 3 teams, they average the highest number of attempts per game from crosses (3.3), but register the lowest goal rate (0.3).

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By the time those teams meet, Marseille will hope to have extended their lead to 3 points with a win at Reims tonight (Tuesday, 23rd September). But where do favourites PSG fit into this year’s title race? The team that can boast Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edison Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi in their front line are only 3 points off the pace in fifth.

The Parisians made a statement with their 5-0 demolition of Saint Etienne in the 4th round of games, a match in which they not only enjoyed a superior 59% ‘live ball possession’ rate but also greatly outweighed St Etienne’s total of ‘passing style’ build-up moves 58-27. PSG are comfortable on the ball and have ample firepower at their disposal, but will that be enough to prevail over the industry and ambition of Marseille this season?

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