Blazing Marseille attack draws attention from Paris stars

Peter BERLIN
1 / 2
Main man: Florian Thauvin is Marseille's top scorer

Marseille open the Ligue 1 weekend by taking one of the hottest attacks in Europe to the fortress of one of their ancient rivals, Saint-Etienne.

Marseille's motto is "Straight to goal" and they are living up to it in 2018 with 27 goals scored in all competitions since the start of the year as they have risen to second in the table.

In the big five European leagues, only Paris Saint-Germain, whose superstars are running away with Ligue 1, have hit more. Marseille's total includes 15 league goals since January 1, two fewer than PSG and the same as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Lazio.

In their last league game, Marseille scored five times in the first 56 minutes before easing up as they won 6-3 at home to Metz. On Tuesday, they travelled to second division Bourg-en-Bresse, rested several starters and won 9-0 in the French Cup.

"It's a hallmark of my teams that they have lots of different scorers," said Rudi Garcia, who built a similarly explosive attack when he guided Lille to the league title in 2011.

Marseille have four scorers in double figures, led by Florian Thauvin with 14 and followed by Valere Germain on 13 and Morgan Sanson and Lucas Ocampos both on 10.

The recent surge has been fuelled by the improving form of two veterans, Dimitri Payet and Kostas Mitroglou and the transformation of youngster, Clinton Njie, into Garcia's trump card off the bench.

Thauvin, who has two international caps, is growing into a star in his second stint in Marseille. He hit a hat-trick against Metz and is both scoring and creating as he strives to force his way into the France squad for the World Cup.

Mitroglou, the veteran Greek striker who has struggled since his signing last year, hit a hat-trick on Tuesday to follow a goal off the bench in Metz.

"He's starting to pay off his fee," Garcia said.

- 'Smoke table' -

Payet suggested his form is improving when he scored direct from a free kick for the first time in almost a year against Bourg.

Saint-Etienne, reinforced by winter recruits Mathieu Debuchy, Paul-Georges Ntep, Neven Subotic and Yann M'Vila, have won two in a row.

Yet while the Marseille attack is on fire, the worry is that the fans of the two clubs might set the stadium ablaze.

The use of flares and smoke bombs by fans has more than doubled this season. The French authorities estimate that there have been 1,502 incidents so far, up from 679 at the same stage last season, French sports daily L'Equipe reported.

Marseille fans lead this league with a score of 384 and were punished with partial closure of the Velodrome for the Metz game. Saint-Etienne are second in the smoke table.

On Saturday, leaders PSG play in Toulouse in a last run out before the Valentine's Day Champions League encounter with Real Madrid.

PSG will be without Kylian Mbappe after French football's disciplinary commission announced on Thursday that the young French striker would be banned for a second match for a foul on Ismaila Sarr of Rennes during the League Cup semi-final on January 30.

Mbappe suffered a knock in January and has struggled for form. The enforced absence allows him to rest but also offers Angel Di Maria, who has been in sparkling form, the chance to cement a place in the lineup.

Friday

Saint-Etienne v Marseille (1945 GMT))

Saturday (all times 1900 unless stated)

Toulouse v Paris Saint-Germain (1600), Angers v Monaco, Bordeaux v Amiens, Dijon v Nice, Guingamp v Caen, Metz v Montpellier

Sunday

Strasbourg v Troyes (1400), Nantes v Lille (1600), Lyon v Rennes (2100)