Jorge Sampaoli, the former OM coach, had raised the debate in May, even before the dream evening which in extremis offered OM their qualification for the C1: « Do we wants the Champions League for money or to be competitive? If you want to play it just to go unnoticed, it doesn’t make sense. When he left office in early July, the Argentinian technician had in fact answered his question. The workforce he had then and the discussions held with his president Pablo Longoria around the transfer window did not seem to him a sufficient guarantee to pursue real European objectives.
It must be said that OM paid to see. His last two participations in the C1 have been ordeals, with six defeats in six matches in 2013/2014, then five more and a single victory two years ago, in the empty stadiums of the Covid era. The success then finally obtained against Olympiakos had ended a series of 13 defeats in C1, an infamous European record. In a way, OM are starting from scratch on Wednesday in London.
Asked about the subject on Monday, Longoria still remained very cautious and recalled that the Marseillais were already very happy to be there. “We must qualify each season in C1, it is the number one objective of the season. Goal number two is to live up to it,” he said. Two months after the departure of Sampaoli and at the time of launching their tournament on the lawn of Tottenham, the Marseillais are therefore small but still have some reason to think that they can imitate Lille, qualified last season for the 8th final.
First, the team has strengthened, even if it will miss Wednesday Alexis Sanchez, the icing on the rich cake cooked by Longoria during the transfer window (12 arrivals), and perhaps Dimitri Payet. But with defenders Eric Bailly and Chancel Mbemba, the Spanish leader brought European experience to Igor Tudor’s group.
Above all, the matches against Tottenham look like bonuses. The English, finalists of the event in 2019 but who appeared in the Europa League then in the Europa League Conference for the last two seasons, are indeed clear favorites of an open group, which also hosts Eintracht Frankfurt, good pick of the hat 1 , and Sporting Lisbon.
In this chicken with false Europa League airs, « open » as Longoria recognized, OM can believe in their chances and aim for qualification or, at the very least, 3rd place, which allows them to continue the adventure at the floor below. “The team is ready and we start with a lot of fit players. But we must not forget that we are the team of the 4th hat, ”still relativized Tudor.
Mbemba, impeccable since his arrival from Porto this summer, for his part wants to believe it. “We are a big club, which must be as high as possible. We have to pass the pools, it’s not easy but it’s important to give OM a good image, ”said the central defender.
In London, especially in the absence of Sanchez, OM should not rush to attack. But the Tudor system has given its first fruits and the Marseillais, who have not conceded a single goal in their last three matches, arrive with a lot of confidence and some certainties built up over the victories obtained in L1, five in of the first six days.
Former Arsenal, the sworn enemy of Tottenham, Mattéo Guendouzi and Nuno Tavares, untenable since the start of the season, will also be there to bring extra soul. Facing Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and the tactical science of Antonio Conte, it won’t be enough, but it can’t hurt.