Week 6 Match Preview: Olympique de Marseille v Stade Rennais Saturday 20 September
After last weeks excellent, disciplined performance to hold the champions to a 1-1 draw, Rennes head to the south coast to face another Ligue 1 giant in Marseille.
With PSG focusing on their midweek Champions League game (allegedly!!), this will probably be Rennes most difficult match to date. After a poor-ish start to the season, Marcelo Bielsa seems to now have found the right recipe for les Phoceens. Bielsa may be known for his intensive training methods but the desired effect seems to now be paying dividends. Going forward Marseille are blessed with talent; Dimitri Payet is flourishing in the post Mathieu Valbuena era, scoring goal, making goals and being a general threat. Florian Thauvin appears to be settling down, becoming less temperamental and letting his football do the talking. Andre-Pierre Gignac is doing what he does best – scoring goals and tormenting defenders. Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored more than hims this season. He is working hard for the team and is looking at the peak of his physical fitness. Marseille can also call upon Andre Ayew, Abdelaziz Barrada and former les Rouges et Noirs man Romain Alessandrini.
At the start of the season, it was the defence which represented Marseille’ biggest weakness. A 3-5-2 formation really struggled to gel as they lacked the personnel capable of fulfilling a back three with two wing-backs. Bielsa reverted to a back four against Evian last week with Jeremy Morel and Brice Djadjedje as full backs and Nicolas Nkoulou and the re-integrated Rod Fanni, another ex-Rennais, pairing as centre backs. This seemed much more settled with players in more familiar roles and is expected to be how they line up on Saturday afternoon. The only exception being the possible return of Benjamin Mendy at left back. In front of them is the rejuvenated Gianelli Imbula. The former Guingamp player just lost his way at times this season but the introduction of Bielsa seems to have returned all confidence back to the talented youngster. A protective presence in front of the defence, Imbula is equally comfortable with the ball at his feet as he is distributing passes around the pitch. His boundless energy also allows him to be a danger further up the pitch as proven when he scored his first goal of the season last weekend against Evian.
If Rennes are to have any joy on Saturday afternoon, it is the full backs for Marseille that they need to target. They are not the strongest and are very much confidence players. If Pedro Henrique, Sanjin Prcic or Paul-Georges Ntep can get the better of them in the early moments of the game, their heads could drop and cracks in the defence could became available for exploitation. Targeting Steve Mandanda, who has not had the best of starts to the season and has looked shaky at times, could be a useful tactic too.
It is also key for Rennes that Abdoulaye Doucure pushes forward to support Ola Toivonen where possible to avoid the Swede becoming an isolated figure. There should be no changes at the back as the defensive six of Benoit Costil, Romain Danze, Edson Mexer, Sylvan Armand, Cheikh M’Bengue, Vincent Pajot and Gelson Fernandes should continue again. Ever reliable this season, it is good to see such an organised unit working very well so far.
The corresponding fixture last season was a classic daylight robbery kind of match. Rennes withstood a barrage of pressure from the home side before unleashing a lightning fast counter attack through Nelson Oliveira, Jonathan Pitroipa and Jean Makoun before Doucoure broke clear to calmly slot beyond Mandanda to give Rennes a priceless away victory late in the season.
Suffice to say though that since then, these are now two very different teams. Marseille are a different animal under El Loco and Rennes, player wise, are almost unrecognisable from the team that came to the Veldorome last season. Let’d not forget that spice has been added to this game through Mexer’ comments earlier in the week where he said “I don’t know much about this team…I’ve seen just a few games. I’ve heard of Mandanda, but otherwise I don’t know anyone……I don’t know him (Gignac), so it will be important to observe his movements on video.” Might not go down to well with the Velodrome faithful!
Expect a good, close game. Rennes will need to be at their absolute, resolute best to take something away from team currently lying in second place in Ligue 1. It can be done so fingers crossed.
Allez les Rouges et Noirs!