The story of Ligue 1 is beginning to take shape, and the most intriguing stories are revolving around the two Olympiques: Lyon, and Marseilles. The top of the table has seen Paris St. Germain holding top spot for most of the season, with the new spending weight of their ownership group it wasn’t entirely unexpected; on the more unexpected side Montpellier are in the second spot powered by the unstoppable force of Olivier Giroud’s 15 goals in the league.
The last Champions League spot is where things get really interesting. Lille have been showing signs of struggling; with the sale of Moussa Sow the defending champions are starting to search for goals. Eden Hazard is a fine young talent, but when your second offensive option is more often than not Joe Cole, scoring goals becomes a difficult proposition.
In 4th and 5th place respectively, Olympique Lyon and Olympique Marseilles are, in my opinion, the odds on favourites to finish in the European competition places. Lyon is starting to see some healthy bodies return, and their back line is starting to see some of its regulars return to action, the return of Bakary Koné from the African Cup of Nations, and the return to full fitness from Dejan Lovren will prove important over the last half of the season. Marseilles has been in incredible form of late, having won four games in a row and beating top competition in both Lille and Rennes. After a putrid start to the season Marseilles have looked unbeatable, with former Lyonnais prodigy Loïc Rémy leading the charge with 9 goals.
This brings us to this weekend: the second bout between the two Olympique clubs (the first of which Lyon won 2-0 in the fortress-like confines of the Stade de Gerland) in Marseilles’ Vélodrome. The last few seasons have seen some high profile games between the two, with Lyon winning in the late stages of last season to deny Marseilles the league championship. But this game is also carrying some important consequences. The winner will build significant momentum in trying to catch Lille for the last Champions league spot, and deal a blow to their opponent all at the same time.
To add another layer of intrigue to the match, both teams qualified this week for the final in the Coupe de la Ligue which will be taking place in April.
Marseilles took a rather ordinary road to the final, beating last place Nice 2-1 in a game that saw little in the way of drama. Despite being tied at 1-1 at the half Marseilles was clearly the better squad. Nice received a ray of hope when Mathieu Valbuena was shown his second yellow card; however, after Franck Dja Djedje a straight red those hopes quickly faded. It wasn’t the most breathtaking match, but Loïc Rémy’s strike to open the scoring was nothing short of brilliant.
Lyon, on the other hand, had to play a classic (which is becoming somewhat commonplace for them this season) against middle of the table Lorient. The first half saw several impressive saves from both goalkeepers, and Lyon’s Lisandro missing out on three near breakaway chances, eventually the teams would enter their rooms at a 0-0 draw. As play resumed Lorient jumped out to a surprising 2-0 lead. Lyon sprung back to life in the 80th minute from a sensational strike from Alexandre Lacazette. When all hope seemed lost Jimmy Briand scored off a header from a corner at literally the last second of play. In extra time goals from Bafétimbi Gomis and Lacazette again sealed the victory. The rivalry between the Olympiques has been a good one for the last decade, and the fact that two prizes will be disputed between the two clubs makes it even more enticing to watch.
While Marseilles is playing at home, that might be of little comfort for them. In the last 10 meetings between the two teams in the Vélodrome, Lyon have won four times, drawn 4 and lost only twice. With the added pressure of sending a message for the upcoming league cup; solidifying a claim to a spot in European competition; and the rivalry that the two clubs enjoy, this match has the potential to be a classic.