Falcao and Andre-Pierre Gignac Headline Marseille vs. Monaco Clash
Sunday night’s box office Ligue 1 clash is the early season’s top two going head-to-head at the Stade Velodrome.
Olympique de Marseille entertaining AS Monaco would have been a heavyweight battle at any point this season, with both heavily tipped during preseason to challenge Paris Saint-Germain for the title. As it is, the pair meet in Week 4, having already found their form in Le Championnat.
The key battle in this match, though, is the faceoff between two of the French top flight's in-form strikers at present.
Marseille’s Andre-Pierre Gignac has three goals in as many matches and has helped Elie Baup’s side to a perfect winning start this campaign.
Meanwhile, Monaco’s Radamel Falcao has two goals in three matches and Les Monegasques have taken seven points from a possible nine, a better start than many predicted for Claudio Ranieri’s men.
Gignac’s start to the season has been particularly surprising.
Despite being the top scorer for OM last year with 13 goals in 31 games, the 27-year-old was still hampered by injuries that had restricted him to as few as nine goals over the two previous seasons combined.
Although it was a massive improvement on the 2011-12 campaign, where he netted just once in 21 appearances, the 13-goal haul was still some way short of his 24-goal exploits with Toulouse FC back in 2008-09.
Having looked on the verge of leaving the Mediterranean club before the arrival of Baup, it is still unclear how long the FC Lorient youth academy product’s good form will last.
Ironically, the striker’s poorest spell of form two years ago was under the leadership of Didier Deschamps. The 44-year-old is now the national team coach and Ligue1.com reported that Gignac has been selected for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in Georgia and Belarus.
The recall, his first selection since the ill-fated 2010 World Cup under Raymond Domenech in South Africa, comes despite his rocky relationship with Les Bleus’ coach.
Having swallowed his pride, though, Deschamps has reached out to reintegrate the chunky striker back into the fold with his France side badly in need of bona fide goalscoring talent.
Marseille’s inability to win goals in a free-scoring manner last season looks to have carried into this campaign, so the Frenchman’s strikes normally prove decisive.
On top of a normally rock-solid defence, should Gignac score, then Falcao and his teammate will provide the ultimate acid test to OM’s resolute back line.
Baup’s side rode their luck last week against Valenciennes, relying on an instinctive Gignac finish to see them through. They will need to be more convincing this week against a formidable Monaco side.
Despite two early goals, one of which was a penalty, the Principality outfit have not been entirely convincing and neither has El Tigre.
Although they were great against Montpellier in Week 2, they ran out of steam in their opener against Bordeaux before finding two lucky goals and disappointed in last week’s goalless home draw with Toulouse.
The Colombian has shown, particularly with his goal against Bordeaux, that his predatory instincts are absolutely vital to Ranieri’s side while they find their feet.
However, we are yet to see him play with the same freedom that he enjoyed with Atletico Madrid, instead having to function alongside French striker Emmanuel Riviere, who has outscored him so far.
So much for Falcao hinges on the service he receives and key playmaker Joao Moutinho has been absent through injury to this point. Although James Rodriguez has featured and played in the creative role behind Falcao and Riviere, he is also not yet fully fit and did not start against Toulouse.
With Geoffrey Kondogbia coming in according to L'Equipe (h/t ESPN FC), the Monaco midfield is about to get upgraded once again.
The French international will almost certainly replace Mounir Obbadi immediately, and it will then take him at least a few matches to settle.
The same goes for Moutinho and Rodriguez, who will need to fit into that new-look midfield.
Those rearrangements will also mean that one member of the impressive duo of Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Lucas Ocampos will have to miss out regularly, despite excellent starts to the season, in order to accommodate Rodriguez in his favoured wide position.
For Falcao, this means that there will likely be more frustration before he is able to truly start benefiting from the mass of stellar talent that Les Monegasques have put together.
The 27-year-old will have to adapt to being the lone front man again. That's no problem for the player, but how long will it take him to strike up a solid understanding with his currently absent teammates?
It is shaping up to be an enticing encounter at the Velodrome and a win for either side would be an early indication of their true ability to challenge for the title this season. Last year, Marseille finished 12 points behind fierce rivals PSG. That deficit looks almost certain to be narrower this time around.
But will it even be the side from the capital leading the way? We will have a better idea after this weekend’s action.
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