There were celebrations in Marseille last night after a critical win against southern rivals AS Monaco last night. However the rivalry is not just a local matter now, as this result reduces Monaco's lead for third place by just 2 points.
As reported after Marseille's last game - a 2-0 win against Metz - Steve Mandanda had stated the team's intent to focus on gaining 'as many points as possible from (their) remaining games', and they needed to. Before the match against Monaco they were five points adrift of third place - the last place for a UEFA Champions League spot, giving the team who finishes there third round qualifying entry in the European tournament.
Before the game fans made their desire felt by creating a vast emotive design across the whole of one side of the stadium, covered in a blue and white cross with a message to the team - 'WIN - to bring Europe to the Velodrome'. Meanwhile Marcelo Bielsa, stoic and rather pensive, sipped an espresso on the touchline in what some would think a distractingly relaxed demeanour - the Marseille manager has just come up to one year in the job.
This morning L'Equipe reported that the win against Monaco 'allows Marseille to hope'. However, there wasn't much hope in Marseille when the game commenced due to a first minute goal for Monaco. Marseille were caught asleep after the whistle and in complete disarray, perhaps because they hadn't had an espresso with Bielsa. However Joao Moutinho's strike was sublime and clinical from about 25 yards, outside the box, straight into the bottom left corner and too far and fast for Mandanda to do anything about.
Marseille picked themselves up and worked hard in a tireless game. And it paid off in the 79th minute when, after Monaco failed to effectively clear danger from a corner, their keeper committed himself rashly, leaving a defenceless goal for Andre Ayew to coolly place his header. That would have been enough normally for Marseille, but that late goal gave them a taste for the European promise that their fans so desperately want.
And a mere eight minutes later a second goal came. The move was impressive with Payet moving positively into the opposition box, after his cross went to the other side of the pitch he was surprised to have received it back a couple seconds later due to a clearly mis-kicked return cross.
However, now at the byline, Payet coolly dummied and played a strategic pass through the defence and across the box to Romain Alessandrini, who was arriving late to the attack, and at pace. He slotted it back across goal and into the bottom right corner, past four defenders and the goalkeeper, despite a hint of the slightest possible mishit.
After the match Monaco were rightly claiming that the injury sustained by Abdennour in the 78th minute compromised their ability to close out the game, as well as directly contributing to Marseille's first goal - the defender was forced to come off. And once again Mandanda had most to do, notably blocking a guilt-edged one-on-one opportunity, as well as making a reaction save to a ballistic missile, at point blank range, when Fabinho got through on goal for Monaco.
PASSION IN MARSEILLE AND SAINT-ETIENNE
You could see what it meant to Alessandrini and the home fans as they celebrated the second goal and a few minutes later, the end of a tough derby and three points from seemingly nowhere. This was quite a turnaround, and the almost euphoric elation was also due to knowing that four hours earlier Saint-Etienne had hammered another southern team - Nice. Saint-Etienne scored five goals from five different outfield players in a comprehensive 5-0 victory at home, which saw them have 16 shots on goal with 10 on target, and while keeping a clean-sheet.
These results leave Saint-Etienne in 5th place still, on equal points with l'OM but relegated one place on goal difference. Saint-Etienne seemed to be fighting for a Europa place in 4th, however anything is possible now with two games left this season (including even Champions League), particularly with Marseille having to play Lille in their next fixture. Meanwhile, though this result may bolster their confidence, Marseille's focus remains the same, as Mandanda said a week ago - get as many points from the remaining games as are possible, and see what happens.
The finish of the season in France is set to be electric.