Marseille braced for Bayern onslaught
Rarely can two sides have approached a UEFA Champions League knockout tie in such contrasting form as Marseille and Bayern Munich, who meet in the first leg of their quarter-final at Stade Velodrome on Wednesday.
Where Bayern have won their last five games in all competitions, Marseille have not tasted victory in eight matches. Where Bayern's attack bristles with menace, OM's flounders.
If Marseille can draw any solace from their current plight, however, it is that the seeds of Bayern's current resurgence were sown in defeat. A shock 1-0 loss at FC Basel on 22 February raised the possibility of an early exit from the Champions League, before a 2-0 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen left Jupp Heynckes' seven points behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.
The response was astonishing. Bayern scored 20 goals in their next three games - including a record 7-0 rout of Basel - and after edging Borussia Moenchengladbach on penalties in the German Cup, they beat Hannover 2-1 on Saturday to keep their league title challenge alive.
Dortmund may still be five points clear but a swagger has returned to Bayern's play. Top scorer Mario Gomez has scored nine goals in his last five games, while Arjen Robben has netted seven times to banish the criticism over his form that dogged him during the winter months.
"We sorted things out together," said French winger Franck Ribery, who returns to the Velodrome for the first time since his 2007 move from Marseille to Bayern. "There were lots of discussions. Bayern are a huge club and as soon as we don't win one or two matches, there's lots of pressure from outside.
"It got to the stage where we started to feel a bit of stress inside the club as well, which disturbed us a bit. But we were able to react and rediscover our form from the first half of the season. We're playing like a team again. We attack and defend together."
Marseille, too, have endured a season of contrasts. After winning just once in their first ten league games, they constructed a 16-game unbeaten run between November and late February that included a 1-0 win over Inter Milan in the first leg of their last-16 encounter.
Qualification for the quarter-finals was secured despite a 2-1 defeat in the return game at San Siro but that represented the only bright spot in a seven-game losing run that included a 3-2 loss to third-tier Quevilly in the French Cup.
OM finally stopped the rot with a 1-1 draw at Nice on Saturday but their slump has seen them fall 13 points below the Champions League places in Ligue 1. Saturday's result also came at the cost of a knee ligament injury to Souleymane Diawara, suspended for the visit of Bayern but now likely to miss the rest of the season too.
"Against Quevilly on Tuesday, we brought shame on the Marseille shirt and on the city," the Senegalese centre-back told Monday's L'Equipe. "Bayern is an opportunity to erase that shame."
Didier Deschamps must also contend without suspended goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, whose nominal replacement, Gennaro Bracigliano, failed his audition against Quevilly by giving away the winning goal in the dying moments of extra time.
Leading scorer Loic Remy, meanwhile, is doubtful after missing the Nice game due to a right thigh injury.
For Bayern, Germany international midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is likely to miss out with an ankle injury, but Gomez and Thomas Muller are both set to start after beginning the victory over Hannover on the bench.
Bayern's Allianz Arena hosts the final on 19 May and whereas the Bavarians are bidding to reach the final for a second time in three seasons, OM have not featured in the last eight since they won the competition with Deschamps as captain in 1993.