Marseille await Sampaoli in hope of turning around troubled season
Paris (AFP) – Marseille fans are awaiting the arrival of Jorge Sampaoli in the hope the fiery Argentine might revive a team that has slumped down the Ligue 1 table while the club is in crisis behind the scenes.
The former European champions lie in seventh place as they prepare to host bitter rivals Lyon on Sunday, almost a month after Andre Villas-Boas was removed as coach following a row over transfer policy.
They have won just once in nine league games, jeopardising their chances of qualifying for Europe next season.
Meanwhile, the club is still reeling from the violent January attack on their training ground by several hundred protesting supporters, one of whom this week received a three-month prison sentence while 11 others were handed suspended jail terms. Organised supporters groups are also calling for unpopular president Jacques-Henri Eyraud to resign.
Into this volatile atmosphere is expected to walk Sampaoli, the 60-year-old Argentine who coached his country at the 2018 World Cup and this week announced his departure from Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro.
Sampaoli previously won the Copa America with Chile in 2015 and spent a season in Spain with Sevilla.
His explosive character could make him either the perfect fit for a club seemingly always on the verge of a crisis, or someone who may only add to the sense of perpetual turmoil.
Marseille’s previous experience with an Argentine coach, under Marcelo Bielsa in 2014/15, is still fondly remembered at the Velodrome despite results tailing away after a brilliant start.
The rivalry between Marseille and Lyon has grown over the last decade with the two clubs often competing with each other for Champions League qualification just as Paris Saint-Germain have dominated in Ligue 1.
However Lyon are now locked in a four-way battle for the title along with Lille, PSG and Monaco.
Rudi Garcia’s team come into the weekend in second place, three points behind leaders Lille and a point above PSG in third.
One to watch: Laurent Koscielny
Bordeaux must have hoped the arrival of such a high calibre player as Laurent Koscielny in 2019 would help the six-time champions compete towards the top of Ligue 1 again.
However, after back-to-back bottom-half finishes they find themselves again struggling in mid-table in this campaign.
They play Metz on Saturday having taken just one point from their last five games, a miserable run that led to captain Koscielny, the former Arsenal and France star, launching a scathing attack on his team-mates on Thursday.
“The atmosphere is not great, really not great. There are so many players coming to the end of their contracts, who want to leave, and who it is difficult to feel any great desire to work with,” admitted the 35-year-old defender, who spent nine years at Arsenal and won 51 France caps.
“We are at the end of a cycle and there needs to be a clear-out,” he said, adding that he “struggles” with some of his team-mates and is not in a happy place at the club.
“I am definitely not going to say I am happy, apart from off the field with my family.
“There are good guys here. Some are not so good but there are some good guys and I worry for them.”
6 – The number of defeats suffered this season by PSG, already the most they have suffered in a whole campaign since losing eight times in 2010/11, the last season before the Qatari takeover.
11 – Monaco’s win in Paris last weekend stretched their unbeaten streak to 11 games.
2 – Marseille have won just two of their last 20 league meetings with Lyon.
Fixtures (Kick-offs GMT)
Rennes v Nice (2000)
Bordeaux v Metz (1200), Dijon v Paris Saint-Germain (1600)
Monaco v Brest (1200), Angers v Lens, Lorient v Saint-Etienne, Nimes v Nantes, Reims v Montpellier (all 1400), Lille v Strasbourg (1600), Marseille v Lyon (2000)