[dropcap]H[/dropcap]aving finished in sixth place last year, 29 points behind Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain, the fact that Olympique de Marseille are embroiled in the title race this season is a credit to their new coach.
Outspoken, opinionated, irrational yet a tactical revolutionary, Marcelo Bielsa’s arrival at the Stade Vélodrome was seen by many as something of a coup ahead of the current season and a boost for the French domestic game.
Pep Guardiola has cited the Argentinian manager as having an influence over his tactical thinking, while the South American has excelled in roles with the Chilean national side and Athletic Bilbao over the years.
A key trademark of Bielsa’s teams are their propensity to attack with purpose, with this ethos firmly instilled in his adopted Marseille side since he took over ahead of the 2014-15 campaign.
This is proven by Marseille having scored 50 goals in 27 matches this term, a joint high with league leaders and Alexandre Lacazette-inspired Olympique Lyonnais.
However, after relinquishing a 2-0 lead at home last night against Caen to unbelievably lose 3-2, the south coast club’s goals against column now has the number 30 in it.
Conceding so many goals has inhibited Marseille’s hopes of a first Ligue 1 triumph since 2010, with Les Phocéens shipping 11 more goals than Lyon and only six less than bottom club Metz.
In typical Bielsa fashion, the Argentine’s tenure at his new club started swimmingly, with the players revitalised by his expansive style of play and the likes of Florian Thauvin, André-Pierre Gignac and Dimitri Payet enjoying the attacking freedom that their new coach allowed.
Marseille were the trendsetters in the early days of the Ligue 1 campaign, with Bielsa’s men overcoming taking only one point from their first two games to win eight consecutive fixtures and announce themselves as a new force in French football.
L’OM have kept pace and exchanged positions with PSG and Lyon throughout the campaign in the top three, but there are clear signs that the early-season furore of Bielsa’s appointment is starting to wear off.
The 59-year-old recently spoke candidly about his plans for next season and was noncommittal over whether he would still be in the Stade Vélodrome hotseat for the 2015-16 campaign.
The team have also seemingly lost the confidence and momentum from late last year in recent times, with Friday night’s defeat meaning that Marseille have only won two of their last eight outings – hardly title-lifting form.
This poor run followed the embarrassment of elimination from the Coupe de France at the hands of modest third-tier side Grenoble at the turn of the year, with 2015 proving to be difficult so far for Bielsa and his side.
Nicknamed El Loco due to his erratic temperament, Bielsa and his footballing principles should certainly be viewed as revolutionary.
However, the flip side to that coin is the argument that his initial success in turning a club’s fortunes around does not possess longevity, while the South American has never won a trophy in his managerial career.
At Bilbao he led the Basque club to the heights of Copa del Rey and Europa League finals in his first campaign, only for an underwhelming second season at San Mamés to end in a 12th placed La Liga finish.
With Marseille’s form dipping dramatically in the second half of this campaign, it appears that the rejuvenating Bielsa effect has not lasted as long this time round.
As such, the Argentine has a real point to prove over the rest of the campaign if his outstanding reputation in the game is to be maintained through managerial achievements and his trophy drought is to end.
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