Marseille hold the aces in French title race, despite car trouble
RESULTS Sat Apr 17 Boulogne 1-2 Marseille, Auxerre 4-1 Lorient, Rennes 0-0 Nancy, Valenciennes 0-1 Le Mans, Nice 0-0 Lens, Grenoble 2-2 Sochaux, Bordeaux 2-2 Lyon Sun Apr 18 Montpellier 1-1 Toulouse, Lille 4-0 Monaco, Saint-ÃÂtienne 0-0 PSG
When Didier Deschamps took charge of Marseille last summer one could be forgiven for thinking he hopped in his Citreon C5 and rode the length and breadth of Europe sticking up posters that read: Ã¢ÂÂWinners, LÃ¢ÂÂOM needs you.Ã¢ÂÂ
After all, DÃÂ©dÃÂ© was the last person to win the league with Marseille nearly 17 years ago when he captained them as a precocious 25-year-old water carrying midfielder. Since then, theyÃ¢ÂÂve taken a leaf out of Otis ReddingÃ¢ÂÂs book, adapted it a bit and lost that winning feeling.
Thankfully though, DeschampsÃ¢ÂÂs imaginary posters got the desired response. Marseille spent a staggering Ã¢ÂÂ¬41.3m on no fewer than 10 players, including Gabi Heinze, Souleymane Diawara, Lucho GonzÃÂ¡lez and former West Ham United flop ÃÂdouard CissÃÂ©.
LÃ¢ÂÂÃÂquipeÃ¢ÂÂs hacks - perhaps stranded in one of MonacoÃ¢ÂÂs casinos on account of the volcanic ash - branded MarseilleÃ¢ÂÂs key signings Ã¢ÂÂthe Four AcesÃ¢ÂÂ.
In all, they have won nine league titles between them, adding experience to a group that, with the exception of Hatem Ben Arfa and Brandao, wasnÃ¢ÂÂt used to picking up silverware.
Ã¢ÂÂThey are players who know how difficult it is to win things,Ã¢ÂÂ Deschamps said after WednesdayÃ¢ÂÂs 1-0 victory over Sochaux. Ã¢ÂÂThey have a role on the pitch, but also one off it too."
Ã¢ÂÂWhen you want a team to keep winning, itÃ¢ÂÂs important to have winners. They must communicate that spirit and also what it takes to impose yourself at a high level. That is seen through words, exchanges, but above all through actions,Ã¢ÂÂ Deschamps added, clearly feeling vindicated by his summer strategy.
Since their victory in the League Cup final against Bordeaux on March 27, Marseille have swept all before them, opening up a five-point lead at the top of Le Championnat.
They have a swagger and a character that hasnÃ¢ÂÂt been seen for years, as was evident on Saturday night.
LÃ¢ÂÂOM were due in Boulogne for their fifth match in two weeks. The pesky volcanic ash meant that they had to fly to Auxerre and then take a four-hour bus journey north just to get to the ironically named Stade de la LibÃÂ©ration, rendering an already marathon schedule a veritable Tour de France.
The fact Boulogne went into the game 19th in Ligue 1, mattered little. After all, Laurent GuyotÃ¢ÂÂs men have picked up points against Bordeaux and Lyon in 2010, and are fighting for their lives, albeit quite unsuccessfully as their run of four defeats in five games amply demonstrated.
However, rather than a banana skin, this was an opportunity Marseille couldnÃ¢ÂÂt afford to miss. Bordeaux were hosting Lyon in a re-match of their Champions League quarter-final, a re-match that would knock one if not both of LÃ¢ÂÂOMÃ¢ÂÂs seasoned rivals out of the title race. If Marseille put Boulogne to the sword, their 17 years of hurt would be closer to being over.
Little by little, though, the tension was mounting. Mamadou Niang, Ligue 1Ã¢ÂÂs leading goalscorer, slapped a fan on his way out of MarseilleÃ¢ÂÂs training ground after the peasant put his mucky little hands on the Senegal internationalÃ¢ÂÂs sparkling Ferrari 360.
Lucho promptly followed NiangÃ¢ÂÂs lead, only he misjudged the turning out of the exit and scuffed his Audi R8 on the railings.
However, regardless of the pressure, LÃ¢ÂÂOM - to paraphrase Deschamps - now had the winners to keep winning.
Marseille took the lead just before half-time in Boulogne when Mathieu Valbuena cut in from the right-hand side and rifled the ball past Jean-FranÃÂ§ois BÃÂ©denik. Things got really interesting a little later though, when Boulogne equalised through JÃÂ©rÃÂ©my Blayac with just eight minutes remaining.
Rather than resign themselves to a draw, Marseille went looking for a win. DÃÂ©dÃÂ© had brought on Taye Taiwo for Niang midway through the second half and his introduction proved inspired.
The Nigeria international, who scored the winner against Lyon last month, fizzed a cross into the box in stoppage time, which found BrandaoÃ¢ÂÂs head and then poor Yoann LachorÃ¢ÂÂs hand, winning a last gasp penalty.
As the refereeÃ¢ÂÂs watch struck 95 minutes, Taiwo stepped up to the spot and beat BÃÂ©denik to secure the three points that preserved MarseilleÃ¢ÂÂs five-point lead at the top of Le Championnat.
Ã¢ÂÂMy players have the desire to get the best possible result in every match. WeÃ¢ÂÂre in top spot and weÃ¢ÂÂll do what we can to stay there,Ã¢ÂÂ Deschamps smiled in his post-match press conference. Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs great to be in front and to be winning.Ã¢ÂÂ
Meanwhile, Bordeaux and Lyon were knocking seven bells out of each other and both ended up on the canvas, drawing 2-2 in a bad-tempered game that saw three players sent off in injury time.
Ã¢ÂÂOne draw, two losers,Ã¢ÂÂ read the headline in LÃ¢ÂÂÃÂquipe on Sunday morning. Bordeaux and Lyon are now 11 and nine points back respectively, the latter focusing on their Champions League semi-final with Bayern Munich, volcanic ash permitting.
The threat to MarseilleÃ¢ÂÂs title aspirations now comes from Auxerre whose impressive 4-1 victory over Lorient keeps them second, setting up a potential decider against DeschampsÃ¢ÂÂs men in two weeksÃ¢ÂÂ time.
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