After Dimitri Payet’s tears and the bitter disappointment of losing the Europa League final, Marseille must rouse themselves for one last effort as they try to snatch a Champions League place.
Saturday in France brings the final round of games in Ligue 1, with Marseille locked in a three-way fight with Monaco and Lyon for two Champions League qualifying berths behind title-winners Paris Saint-Germain.
Marseille are at a disadvantage though, and not just because of the mental and physical scars left by their 3-0 defeat at the hands of an Antoine Griezmann-inspired Atletico Madrid in Lyon.
Rudi Garcia’s team are fourth in the table, a point behind Lyon and three points behind Monaco. Their goal difference is also inferior to that of their rivals.
They host Amiens at the Velodrome needing to win and hope Lyon slip up at home to Nice at the same time. Monaco need just a draw at relegation-threatened Troyes to secure their top-three spot.
“We are all disappointed and frustrated. But having lost one final, we have another one coming up on Saturday,” said striker Valere Germain, who was haunted by missing a great early chance to put Marseille ahead against Atletico.
“We need to win at all costs to get into the Champions League and experience more of these kinds of nights against top teams.
“There is no fear of losing everything. We knew that we had everything to play for this week.”
One player they have lost is skipper Payet, who came off crying in the first half of the final after clearly aggravating a hamstring injury that prevented him from playing in the 3-3 Ligue 1 draw at Guingamp last weekend.
– Straight into group stage –
One consequence of Wednesday’s game — which could end up benefiting OM — is that the top three in France will now all qualify automatically for the Champions League group stage.
Previously, the team finishing third in France would have entered in the third qualifying round in late July.
However, with Atletico having already qualified via their position in La Liga, the berth on offer to the Europa League winner is passed down to Ligue 1.
It would be a huge surprise if Monaco missed out, even if their opponents Troyes need to win to realistically stand any chance of avoiding automatic relegation.
But Lyon’s position is more fragile. Bruno Genesio’s side had won eight games in a row before a late collapse saw them lose 3-2 in Strasbourg last time out, denting their morale before a tricky final assignment at home against Nice.
The visitors need to win to be sure of joining Rennes in qualifying for the Europa League, and their in-form striker Mario Balotelli will be determined to make an impact in what should be his last appearance for the club.
“We are lucky because our fate is in our own hands. It is down to us to seize our chance,” insisted Genesio.
Saturday’s other games include champions PSG away to Caen, who need a draw to be sure of staying out of the relegation play-off place, a position currently occupied by Toulouse.
Player to watch: Florian Thauvin
All the focus was on Payet’s injury and Germain’s miss, but Thauvin’s poor performance was another factor in Marseille’s final defeat.
It will also have been noted by France coach Didier Deschamps as he prepared to announce his World Cup squad on Thursday evening.
Thauvin has been outstanding in the league this season, though, scoring 22 goals, and he can be the man to keep Marseille’s Champions League dream alive.
Fixtures on Saturday (all 1900 GMT kick-offs)
Caen v Paris Saint-Germain, Dijon v Angers, Lyon v Nice, Marseille v Amiens, Metz v Bordeaux, Nantes v Strasbourg, Rennes v Montpellier, Saint-Etienne v Lille, Toulouse v Guingamp, Troyes v Monaco