Predicting Marseille's Starting XI in the Champions League Next Season

Nicholas McGeeContributor IJune 27, 2013

Predicting Marseille's Starting XI in the Champions League Next Season

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    After a one-year absence, Marseille will be returning to the Champions League after securing a second-place finish last season.

    However, despite their lofty status in French football, Marseille have a limited budget to work with and may not be able to expand their squad significantly enough to be able to challenge in Europe's premier club competition.

    Marseille reached the last eight of the 2011-12 tournament and, although they are unlikely to be able to match that feat this time around, they should still be able to be competitive.

    Elie Baup's side have been linked with a number of players in the offseason, and therefore it is difficult to predict how they will line up next term.

    Still it is always fun to speculate at this stage of the year, and on that note here is Bleacher Report's prediction for who will form Marseille's Champions League XI.

Steve Mandanda

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    Kept out of the French national team by Tottenham's Hugo Lloris, Steve Mandanda is a goalkeeper with plenty to prove.

    Marseille conceded just 36 goals in the league last term, and Mandanda, with his excellent reflexes, anticipation and shot-stopping ability, was a big part of their success.

    The 28-year-old has developed a reputation for being error-prone in recent times. However, more often than not he provides a steady and reassuring presence behind an excellent defense.

    Mandanda will likely to be out to prove that he can perform on the biggest of European stages and should be a regular in the Marseille side once again.

Serge Aurier

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    Ivorian defender Serge Aurier has begun to make a big impression at Toulouse over the last 12 months.

    Aurier made 28 league appearances for La Tefece last season and more than held his own.  However, despite cementing his position in the starting lineup at the Stade Municipal, the Ivory Coast international could already be set to move on.

    Marseille are one of a number of teams to be linked with a move for Aurier, according to Giscard Gourizro of Sky Sports, and with his maturity and growing confidence, do not be surprised if the 20-year-old makes the switch to Marseille and starts in the Champions League.

Nicolas N'Koulou

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    A mainstay of the Marseille defense in the past few seasons, Nicolas N'Koulou has become one of the top prospects in the European game.

    Linked by Simon Jones of the Daily Mail with clubs across the continent, including Premier League outfit and perennial Ligue 1 talent-pickers Newcastle United, N'Koulou has turned many heads with his assured performances belying his tender age of 23.

    However, the Cameroon international is unlikely to part company with Marseille. The Stade Velodrome club have a lack of depth at center-back, and it would almost certainly take a large offer to convince the 1993 European champions to sell N'Koulou.

    Marseille may have curtailed their spending in recent years, but with youthful talent like N'Koulou coming through the ranks, the future remains bright. Expect him to continue to impress in the Champions League.

Rod Fanni

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    After another impressive season in which he was solid defensively and contributed much going forward, Rod Fanni should be able to retain his spot in the defense and compete in the Champions League.

    The 31-year-old is not blessed with superb pace, but his physicality and attacking instincts make him a valuable asset for Baup's men.

    Souleymane Diawara and Lucas Mendes both failed to establish themselves at center-back, and therefore Fanni, who can play in the center and on the right, could well find himself operating in the middle regularly in both domestic and European competition.

Jeremy Morel

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    One area where Marseille do not have to strengthen is at left-back, a position occupied by seasoned professional Jeremy Morel.

    The ex-Lorient man played 46 times in all competitions, with his experience and all-round ability valuable commodities for Baup's side.

    Lucas Mendes can also play on the left side of the defense, but Morel is undoubtedly first-choice and will aim to further his reputation in the Champions League.

Alaixys Romao

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    Signed from Lorient in January to help boost the Marseille midfield, Alaixys Romao is a player with an excellent pedigree.

    Romao was a favorite at the Stade du Moustoir before making the move south, and having played regularly for Togo, the 29-year-old will not be overawed by the spectacle of the Champions League.

    Expect the experienced campaigner to remain an important part of the spine of the Marseille side next season.

Joey Barton

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    It remains to be seen whether Marseille are going to make a permanent move for QPR midfielder Joey Barton. However, it is difficult to deny that the Englishman struck a chord with the club's fans during his loan spell last term. 

    Naturally aggressive and combative in the center of the field, Barton gives Marseille an edge in midfield, but was also able to demonstrate his skills on the ball by virtue of the extra space and freedom afforded him in Ligue 1.

    The former Newcastle man will undoubtedly be desperate to play Champions League football. The ball is firmly in Marseille's court, but a move for the 30-year-old on a permanent basis would certainly be a popular one at the Velodrome, and there can be no doubt that Barton would give his all to impress on the big stage.

Romain Alessandrini

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    Despite missing much of the second half of last season through injury, Romain Alessandrini is a player who turned heads with his dynamic performances.

    The Rennes winger scored 10 goals as the Brittany club threatened to gatecrash the top six.

    However, after Alessandrini was ruled out for the rest of campaign because of a cruciate ligament injury picked up in the defeat to Lille in February, Rennes' form faltered.

    That underlined just how important the 24-year-old was, and should he sign for Marseille, as has been mooted in the French press (h/t Sky Sports), then they will be looking for the former Clermont player to have a similar impact in Ligue 1 and in the Champions League.

Mathieu Valbuena

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    The heartbeat of the Marseille side, Mathieu Valbuena is a player who will relish playing on the biggest stage in club football.

    Valbuena was excellent as Marseille mounted their ultimately unsuccessful title challenge, notching 12 assists and scoring three goals in Ligue 1.

    The 28-year-old is still very much in his prime, and the France international will be hoping to show just why he is seen as one of the country's top playmakers and help Baup's side progress to the knockout stages.

Dimitri Payet

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    After agreeing to join Marseille from Lille, according to Ian Holyman of ESPN, Dimitri Payet is set to be an integral part of the Marseille setup next season.

    Payet was the standout player in a Lille side that missed out on European football last term, scoring 12 goals and providing 12 assists in the league in what was an excellent season for the former Saint-Etienne player.

    He will be asked to deliver similar performances at the Stade Velodrome, and if he is successful in doing so, then Baup's men may be able to enjoy a profitable campaign in Europe.

Andre-Pierre Gignac

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    Another to recently be linked with a move to the Premier League, according to Simon Jones of the Daily Mail, Marseille fans will be hoping that Andre-Pierre Gignac will remain committed to the club.

    Gignac netted 18 goals in all competitions last season and was an integral part of Marseille's title challenge.

    Physical, strong on the ball and clinical in front of goal, Baup built the team around Gignac last term and will be hoping that he will again be the focal point of a formidable side.

    Striker is another position where Marseille are severely lacking, and therefore Gignac will more than likely be lining up for them in the Champions League.