Montpellier Hérault – Olympique de Marseille (8 Aug 21)

2021 European Apertura Top 25 (1 of 25)

For the second season running, France’s Ligue 1 got a head start, opening their season a week ahead of most of the major European leagues (and two weeks ahead of Italy’s Serie A). Notwithstanding a 3-3 draw between promoted Metz and champions LOSC Lille (under new manager Jocelyn Gourvennec following Christophe Gaultier’s departure for OGC Nice), this final match of the opening weekend proved the best of the bunch. While Jorge Sampaoli was starting his first full season in charge of Marseille, having taken charge of the club in February, this was manager Oliver Dall’Oglio’s first game in charge of Montpellier, having left Brest following an impressive first season in the top flight.

Marseille dominated the opening half hour, including disallowed goal at the outset by Dimitri Payet, playing as a false nine in the absence of the injured Arkadiusz Milik. But then Gaëten Laborde created two goals in 5’, swinging in a cross on a counter-attack that deflected in off left back Luan Peres and then scoring one of his own with a lovely curling shot from the right to put Montpellier two up against the run of play.

The rest of the 1st half and the start of the 2nd was much like the opening 30’, with Marseille dominating but unable to score. Just after the hour mark, though, Sampaoli brought on striker Dario Benedetto, allowing Payet to drop into a midfield role. The change also seemed to benefit left wing Konrad de la Fuente, who created a series of chances (for himself and others) before rifling a ball across the box for Cengiz Ünder to tap in at the far post 5’ after the change. With a quarter hour left, Payet put in a lovely free kick to draw Marseille level. 5’ after that, he capitalized on a Montpellier turnover, dribbling into the box and scoring a lovely individual goal to win the game.

In a dark foreshadowing of a recurrent theme in the first half of the Ligue 1 season, the game had to be suspended for over 10’ when water bottles were thrown at Matteo Guendouzi by Montpellier fans. While this game was ultimately completed, Marseille would have games against Nice and Olympique Lyonnais abandoned for similarly targeted attacks on Guendouzi and Payet, with the league choosing to reschedule the fixtures at a neutral site rather than awarding forfeits (though Lyon were ultimately docked a point). In between those incidents, Saint-Étienne fans staged a pitch invasion and cut their own goal nets before a home game in protest of their club’s poor performances, as supporter misconduct threatened to overshadow Lionel Messi’s arrival at Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1’s season narrative.

Nonetheless, Marseille would enter the winter break in 3rd place, with Montpellier in 5th despite the end of August departures of top-scorers Laborde and Andy Delort, to Rennes and Nice respectively. Tactical Analysis from: Stoopid American (Sampaoli’s Marseille).

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