Marseille’s creaking defence will face its sternest test to date this season when the French champions host Spartak Moscow in their Champions League opener on Wednesday.
Didier Deschamps’s side have looked uncharacteristically vulnerable in their early league fixtures, shipping eight goals in five games — the third-worst statistics in the French top tier — and currently sit in 13th place.
They claimed their first title in 18 years last season and finished the campaign with the second-best defensive record in the division, prompting Deschamps to focus close-season recruitment on bolstering his attack.
Injuries and suspensions have taken a heavy toll on the Marseille back line though, and their porousness was evident once again on Sunday as they were held to a 2-2 draw at home to Monaco.
Deschamps, however, has faith in his team’s powers of recovery.
“I’m not worried, even though it’s true that we’ve let in too many goals,” said the Marseille coach.
“I’ve only got three days (before the game with Spartak), so I haven’t got time to feel sorry for myself. The Champions League demands more solidity. I hope to keep most of the team intact.”
Marseille welcomed back Stephane Mbia from a month-long absence through injury against Monaco, but an error by the Cameroon international allowed Park Chu-Young to nip in and claim the visitors’ second goal.
Deschamps converted Mbia from a holding midfielder to a centre-back mid-way through last season, a masterstroke that laid the foundation for OM’s title success.
Mbia has often expressed reluctance about his new position, but Deschamps gave him fulsome backing after Sunday’s game at Stade Velodrome.
“I know what he’s capable of doing; he can make a difference,” said Deschamps. “I have confidence in him and I know that he can raise the bar.”
Deschamps, a Champions League winner as Marseille captain in 1993, will know that his side must try to avoid the slow starts that have hampered their recent campaigns in Europe’s premier cup competition.
Twelve months ago Marseille lost 2-1 at home to AC Milan in their opening group fixture, having gone down by the same score at home to Liverpool on matchday one in 2008-09.
The two teams last met in the 2007-08 UEFA Cup, when Marseille reached the last 16 after a 3-2 aggregate win.
The French outfit also prevailed when the teams met in the semi-finals of the 1990-91 European Cup, with current Spartak coach Valery Karpin finishing on the wrong side of a 5-2 aggregate scoreline.
Spartak, who last competed in the Champions League in 2006-07, have a dismal record against French clubs in France, having lost nine and drawn one of their 10 previous matches in the country.
They will see themselves as Marseille’s strongest challengers for second place behind Chelsea in Group F, however, with Slovakians MSK Zilina entering the competition as something of an unknown quantity.
The side from the Russian capital can also call on recently signed Ireland winger Aiden McGeady and prolific Brazilian striker Welliton, who is the Russian Premier League’s current top scorer with 15 goals from 16 games.
McGeady made his debut in Spartak’s 2-1 defeat of FC Saturn on Saturday, setting up the winning goal for Welliton.
“I haven’t played any matches in the pre-season, but now I am starting to get match fit after playing for Ireland in Europe,” said McGeady.
“Once I start getting the games in for Spartak, I will get into my stride.”
France international striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, the big-money signing from Toulouse, is set to make his first Champions League appearance for Marseille, but centre-back Souleymane Diawara remains out with a thigh injury.
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