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Villas-Boas navigates storm in Marseille as title chances fade

Marseille are never far away from a crisis and the southern French giants are in trouble again after a run of defeats which have led to coach Andre Villas-Boas admitting to some uncertainty about his future.

Former Chelsea boss Villas-Boas had to be persuaded to stay at Marseille for this season despite leading the 1993 Champions League winners to second place in Ligue 1 in the last, curtailed campaign.

He clearly sensed that repeating that performance would be a very difficult, if not impossible, task and Marseille were dreadful in the Champions League group phase, losing five of their six games.

However, all was going well in Ligue 1 as OM won six games in a row to sit right in contention in mid-December.

Since then, though, they have won just once in seven, and suffered home defeats to struggling Nimes and Lens in the last week. That has left Marseille sixth, 10 points off leaders Paris Saint-Germain, albeit with a game in hand.

After losing 2-1 to Nimes, club president Jacques-Henri Eyraud fumed at his players, telling them they were “not fit to wear the shirt”. 

“I am at the service of the board. I am not here to be an obstacle,” Villas-Boas said after Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Lens, a game played out to a backdrop of banners in the empty stands at the Velodrome with messages such as “you are disgusting” and “you are an embarrassment to us”.

Villas-Boas did, though, make it clear he was not about to give up the fight ahead of a huge match at fourth-placed Monaco on Saturday.

“We will be playing all our direct rivals in our upcoming matches. We missed a chance to close in on the sides above us but I hope to turn things around. I don’t think this is dead yet.”

Player to watch: Paul Lasne

Brest midfielder Lasne, 32, is not one of the more remarkable players in France. However, he has become an integral part of the Brittany side since Ibrahima Diallo was sold to Southampton for a reported 15 million euros ($18.2m) in October. 

Meanwhile, off the pitch Lasne has written a book to be released on February 1 and called MurMures (the second capital ‘M’ is deliberate and the title translates as ‘Murmurs’).

The book — conveniently published by the publishing house founded by his father — is not about football but a series of stories related to Lasne’s experience during France’s first coronavirus lockdown in early 2020 — the title of the book perhaps also makes reference to being walled in as a “mur” in French is a wall.

He told AFP he was inspired to write by a trip to the supermarket just before the lockdown.

“There was a sort of anxious atmosphere. You could tell something was up,” he said.

“When I got home I wrote some stuff down about. My wife read it and encouraged me to do some writing every day.”

Key stats

7 – The number of points collected, out of a possible nine, by Paris Saint-Germain in three Ligue 1 games under Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine missed his team’s 1-0 win in Angers last weekend after testing positive for Covid-19. Forced into self-isolation in his Paris hotel room, it is unclear if Pochettino will be back for Friday’s game against Montpellier.

7 – Rennes are unbeaten in seven games, the longest streak in the division. They can move to within three points of second-placed Lille with a win when the sides meet on Sunday.

17 – Lyon go into Sunday’s Rhone-Alpes derby against Saint-Etienne having lost just once in their last 17 games, although that loss came last weekend against Metz. In contrast, Claude Puel’s struggling Saint-Etienne have managed just one win in their last 17 matches.

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