Marseille coach Sampaoli injects attacking flair into team

After only one match with Jorge Sampaoli at the helm, there is one thing that seems certain in Marseille: the new coach’s philosophy perfectly fits the club’s motto of “Straight to The Goal.”

The Argentine tactician marked his debut with the nine-time French champions in a hard-fought 1-0 win over Rennes on Wednesday, using plenty of forward players.

“The general idea was to attack with six men and defend with four. It’s true that in (this league) transitions are very fast and we have to be careful, but above all we had to correct a certain passivity in attack,” said Sampaoli, who took over from Andre Villas-Boas following Nasser Larguet’s spell as caretaker.

Still reeling from their shock elimination in the French Cup at the hands of amateurs earlier this week, Marseille’s players delivered an unperfect and shaky display. They managed only two shots on target and waited until the 88th minute to snatch an important win with a goal from substitute Michael Cuisance’s late header.

But playing in a new 5-3-2 system, they pressed high on the field with a spirit rarely seen this season at Stade Velodrome.

“With time, we’ll try to get the ball back into the opponent’s half,” Sampaoli said. “But the first objective, the first message, was that we had to attack.”

An admirer of fellow Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa — who guided Marseille to a fourth-place finish in 2015 — Sampaoli landed in France last week but was forced to stay in isolation for seven days because of coronavirus restrictions. He had only two days of training with his players and had to deal with the absence of four players as he composed his first starting lineup, with Florian Thauvin and Arkadiusz Milik leading the attack.

Sampaoli made key coaching decisions as three of the substitutes he brought in — Dario Benedetto, Luis Henrique and Cuisance — were involved in the goal. His decision to give Dimitri Payet playmaking duties also paid off as the France international skillfully distributed passes.

Sampaoli’s first mission was to put an end to Marseille’s downward spiral, and he delivered. Having stopped a four-game losing run, he can now think about bringing back some luster to the 1993 European champions in a turbulent season.

The former Argentina coach was hired after Villas-Boas resigned last month over moves in the January transfer window. Amid sweeping changes, Jacques-Henri Eyraud was also replaced as Marseille president by Pablo Longoria amid tensions with fans that turned violent.

Sampaoli was in charge of Argentina at the 2018 World Cup and previously coached Chile — winning the 2015 Copa America by beating Argentina in the final — Spanish club Sevilla, and Brazilian team Atletico Mineiro, where he stayed less than a year. Marseille has him under contract until June 2023.

With 10 games left to play, Marseille is in sixth place ahead of Saturday’s match against Brest, only two points behind Lens.

“We could not do everything in two days,” Sampaoli said. “We have to make every effort in a short time to impress upon this group the standing of club we are at, and the stadium we are in. It’s important to know who we represent and who we play for to know where we are going.”


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