Olympique Marseille got the job done in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League semifinals against RB Salzburg.
The French side, led by an impressive Dimitri Payet, secured a solid 2-0 win over the Austrian side so they have earned a relatively comfortable advantage heading into the secone leg next week. A first-half header from Florian Thauvin and a second-half strike from Clinton N’Jie (both assisted by Payet) lifted Marseille to a huge win at home that should make them feel comfortable looking towards the second leg of this semifinal tie.
The game didn’t start with a lot of intensity as both sides were battling for supremacy and possession in midfield early on. However, Marseille slowly began to win possession and leaned the pitch on their favour. And while they looked a bit inaccurate, it wouldn’t take long before they would break the deadlock thanks to their two best players: Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin.
Payet crossed the ball into the far post and while it seemed Alexander Walke should have cut the cross easily, he was left in the middle of nowhere. Thauvin appeared all alone at the far post and headed the ball from close range, putting the French side up 1-0 at the 15th minute break.
The goal sparked Marseille, and the Ligue 1 side looked even more lively once they got on top on the score. Maxime Lopez owned the midfield, Payet was doing anything he wanted in the final third, and Marseille overall looked on top. In fact, Salzburg’s first chance came in the 25th minute with a header that went above the bar. The reigning Austrian champions couldn’t settle, and Marseille looked abruptly on top.
Stefan Lainer tested Yohann Pele with a shot from outside the box in the 29th minute, but Marseille’s goalkeeper didn’t have problems to control that chance. The French side looked in control afterwards and while they couldn’t add another goal, they closed things out as the first half ended with a comfortable one-goal advantage for the home side.
Salzburg started the second half with a more aggressive approach, and they looked like a threatening side right after the break. Lainer called for a penalty five minutes into the second half but his appeal was dismissed, and Hannes Wolf came close to equalise but Pele was magnificent to deny the 19-year-old with a magnificent diving stretch . To make things more complicated for Marseille, Lucas Ocampos left the game with an injury and Andre Anguissa replaced him, giving the team a more defensive-minded player in midfield.
Marseille looked unable to pose a threat, until Payet came through with his magic. Another stellar play from Payet found Clinton N’Jie – who had entered the pitch a few minutes earlier – and the Cameroonian placed the ball out of Walke’s reach to make it 2-0. Olympique managed to double their lead out of nowhere and they began to close things out afterwards.
Salzburg didn’t go down without a fight, though. Valon Berisha tested Pele with another long-range shot, but Marseille’s goalkeeper was stellar once again. And while Austrian side couldn’t generate many clear chances afterwards, they kept fighting and never gave up. The problem was that Marseille showed all of their experience to cool things off in the final 20 minutes.
Salzburg had one final chance in the 77th minute thanks to Gulbrandsen, who took advantage of a cross from the left flank and placed a shot from close range, but his effort bounced off the post when Pele was beaten. But aside from that, the Austrian champions couldn’t generate many chances down the stretch. The French side didn’t want to take too many risks, and opted to seal the deal despite Salzburg’s positive attitude.
It was a solid win for Marseille, there’s no question about that. The team looked solid on both ends of the pitch, capitalised on their scoring opportunities, and controlled the tempo with ease. Despite Salzburg’s improvements in the second half, it seemed Marseille’s win was never in doubt.
As for Salzburg, the Austrian need to do a better job defensively in the second half. They already know what is like to win on the road during the current Europa League campaign, but this time they have their backs against the wall. Will they pull another upset on route to the final? For that to happen, they need to be much better on both ends of the pitch.
Olympique Marseille: Pele (6); Sarr (6), Rami (6), Luiz Gustavo (5), Amavi (6); Lopez (5) (N’Jie (6), 60′), Sanson (5); Thauvin (7) (Germain (-), 80′), Payet (8), Ocampos (6) (Anguisa (6), 52′); Mitroglou (5)
Subs not used: Escales (GK), Rolando, Sertic, Bedimo
RB Salzburg: Walke (4); Lainer (7), Andre Ramalho (5), Caleta-Car (5), Ulmer (6); Haidara (5) (Yabo (-), 81′), Samassekou (6), Wolf (5) (Schlager (5), 68′), Berisha (6); Hwang Hee-Chan (4) (Gulbrandsen (-), 60′), Dabbur (5)
Subs not used: Stankovic (GK), Pongracic, Onguene, Minamino
Goals: Thauvin (1-0, 15′)
Referee: William Collum (SCO)
Yellow cards: Lopez, Mitroglou (MAR); Wolf (RBS)
Red cards: None
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