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Leagues: Europa Conference League

Marseille have eyes on European trophy and Champions League return


Paris (AFP) – Marseille travel to face bitter rivals Paris Saint-Germain this weekend in buoyant mood as they target Champions League qualification and a European trophy to finish the season.

PSG these days dominate French football and are closing in on an eighth Ligue 1 title in 10 seasons, but Marseille can still claim to be the country’s best supported team and there is something else they can still brag about to their rivals.

With the Parisians again falling short in their pursuit of Champions League glory this season, the southern giants remain the only French club to have lifted the European Cup, back in 1993.

Too inconsistent to seriously challenge PSG in recent years, Marseille have emerged as the best of the rest in Ligue 1 this season under Jorge Sampaoli and they head to the Parc des Princes sitting in second place.

With the top three qualifying for Europe’s elite club competition, OM have a healthy seven-point cushion over Strasbourg in fourth as they target a return to the Champions League.

That is of particular importance given the fragile finances of the club owned by American tycoon Frank McCourt, but they also have silverware in their sights.

Thursday’s 1-0 win over PAOK in Greece took them through to the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League 3-1 on aggregate, with Dimitri Payet scoring the only goal on the night.

The new third-tier European competition may have been dismissed by many at the start of the campaign, but the opportunity of a second European trophy is not to be sniffed at for Marseille.

They will play fellow former European Cup winners Feyenoord in the last four, with the first leg to come later this month.

The winner of that will face either Leicester City or Roma in the final in Tirana in late May.

Marseille have now won eight straight games in all competitions with Payet in particular in inspired form.

“This run really makes the end of the season exciting for us,” said forward Cedric Bakambu after beating PAOK.

“We have the PSG game in our minds, but we shouldn’t play down this result. 

“We should savour it and then get back to work. Everything is possible in football.”

However, it would be an enormous surprise if they could extend that winning streak in Paris, where they had gone a decade without tasting victory before coming out on top at the start of last season when only a handful of supporters were allowed to attend due to the pandemic.

Player to watch: Kylian Mbappe

Because he is arguably the best player in the world right now. Mbappe scored a hat-trick in PSG’s 6-1 win at Clermont last weekend while also setting up a goal for Neymar and winning a penalty that the Brazilian converted. The week before that he scored two and had a hat-trick of assists against Lorient.

Marseille will provide stiffer opposition than either of those limited sides, but Mbappe will take some stopping as he looks to add to his Ligue 1 best tallies of 20 goals and 14 assists moving into perhaps his final weeks as a PSG player.

Key stats

8 – Marseille have won their last eight games in all competitions.

10 – Kylian Mbappe has been directly involved in 10 goals in PSG’s last two games. He has scored five, provided four assists and won a penalty which led to a goal.

5 – Lyon are five points adrift of the top five and risk missing out on European qualification for next season following their midweek Europa League exit.

Fixtures (times GMT)

Friday

Rennes v Monaco (1900)

Saturday

Saint-Etienne v Brest (1500), Lille v Lens (1900)

Sunday

Nice v Lorient (1100), Metz v Clermont, Montpellier v Reims, Nantes v Angers, Troyes v Strasbourg (all 1300), Lyon v Bordeaux (1505), Paris Saint-Germain v Marseille (1845)

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