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Bielsa effect has Marseille flying but can it last?

20 October 2014, 21:35

Paris - Marseille's start to the French Ligue 1 season had already exceeded all expectations before history was made in Sunday's 2-0 win against Toulouse at the Stade Velodrome.

As has been their trademark since Marcelo Bielsa was appointed coach in the summer, OM came flying out of the blocks as first-half goals from Nicolas Nkoulou and Andre-Pierre Gignac secured a club record-equalling eighth consecutive league victory.

When, under Bielsa's predecessor Jose Anigo, Marseille beat Ajaccio 3-1 in April, there were vast swathes of empty seats at the Velodrome and those fans who did turn up spent the game berating president Vincent Labrune, Anigo and club owner Margarita Louis-Dreyfus.

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Most fans lost interest last season as the team failed to qualify for Europe for the first time in a decade, but on Sunday, as a sign of how Bielsa has turned things around, the Velodrome, recently renovated ahead of Euro 2016, welcomed a new record attendance of 61,846.

Marseille have opened up a seven-point lead over reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux at the top of Ligue 1 and the question now is whether they can maintain their position.

Cameroon centre-back Nkoulou played down their chances after Sunday's win, saying: "Paris are still Paris. We are the little ones! We are definitely better than last year, but Paris, with their weaponry, remain the favourites."

A trip to PSG on November 9 will give a clearer idea, but in the meantime there can be no doubt that what is currently being served up at the Velodrome is in stark contrast to last season, despite Bielsa keeping faith in the players who underperformed previously.

Mathieu Valbuena and defender Lucas Mendes were the only leading players to leave in the summer, but none of the club's four major summer signings have made an impact under Bielsa, who last month slammed Labrune for his recruitment policy in a staggering press conference.

"I think the president made promises to me that he knew he had no intention of keeping," said the former Chile and Athletic Bilbao coach at the time. "None of the players who have joined Marseille did so on my initiative."

Huge demands

Romain Alessandrini, Michy Batshuayi, Abdelaziz Barrada and Doria were brought in, but have started two games between them.

Meanwhile, the seven players who have started every game were already on the books last season, including striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, who scored his 10th goal in 10 games this season against Toulouse.

Gignac has in the past struggled with weight problems, but this season he has stood out despite the huge physical demands of Bielsa's style of football.

"It is not easy, because we work hard during the week," said Nkoulou, whose goal against Toulouse was one of nine OM have scored in the first half-hour of games.

"It is a pleasure when it all comes together. I hope we will recover sufficiently physically in order to finish the season well. So far, so good."

The enigmatic Bielsa, who spends games either pacing relentlessly back and forth in his technical area or perched on a drinks cooler, is not everyone's cup of tea and players who have worked under him in the past have started well before eventually creaking under the physical strain.

It therefore remains to be seen how long the Bielsa effect will last, but for now Nkoulou insists the Marseille players are loving it.

"To have a coach like him plays a big part for us. He shows each of us one by one what he wants us to do. We could not dream of anything better," he said.

Marseille's failure to qualify for Europe is undoubtedly helping their cause, giving the players more time to rest in between games.

The meeting with PSG is approaching but before that a trip to Lyon next Sunday will be a huge test too, the last time OM won eight in a row they lost in Lyon in their next match and this time they will be facing an OL side who are unbeaten in six and impressed in their 5-1 win against Montpellier on Sunday.



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