Marseille will hope their Europa League final clash with Atletico Madrid on Wednesday brings to an end a sustained period of underachievement for what many would consider a sleeping giant of European football.
As a club, Marseille are no strangers to European finals, having won the Champions League in 1992-93, two years after finishing runners-up.
They also reached the final of the Europa League in its former guise as the UEFA Cup in 1999 and 2004, losing on both occasions.
However, before this season, Marseille have had a minimal impact on European competitions in the interim, with a quarter-final spot in the 2011-12 Champions League the best they have mustered.
They are once again on the verge of bringing a European trophy back to the Velodrome, but, as their road to the final has shown so far, it is difficult to know what to expect from Rudi Garcia’s talented – albeit erratic – Marseille.
Qualifying and group stage
As expected, Oostende and Domzale did not pose much of a threat in Marseille’s two qualifiers, though their performance in Group I hardly suggested they were going to be in May’s final. Their only two victories from six games came at home to Vitoria Guimaraes and Konyaspor – both by only a single goal. They scraped through as runners-up after drawing with group winners Red Bull Salzburg on the final day, as Konyaspor were held in Portugal.
Last 32: Sporting Braga – 3-1 agg
Considering they failed to top their group, Marseille were given a relatively straightforward draw against Sporting Braga. They dominated the first leg at the Velodrome as they won 3-0 – Valere Germain netting a brace and Florian Thauvin getting the third after an intricate move. Ricardo Horta’s emphatic finish secured the Portuguese side a 1-0 win in the return leg, but Marseille looked in control of the tie.
Last 16: Athletic Bilbao – 5-2 agg
LaLiga’s Athletic Bilbao were expected to give Marseille a real run for their money in the last 16, but in the opening minute of the first leg, Garcia’s men were in charge as Lucas Ocampos tapped in. Dimitri Payet soon made it 2-0 with a stunning finish, later setting up Ocampos for his second after Aritz Aduriz had pulled one back from the spot. Any danger of an Athletic comeback in a second leg marred by crowd trouble was ended before the break by Payet’s penalty, with Ocampos doubling the lead just after the break. Inaki Williams pulled one back, but Aduriz’s late red card provided a sour end for Athletic as Marseille claimed their only away win in the Europa League this term.
Quarter-final: RB Leipzig – 5-3 agg
RB Leipzig looked good value to eliminate Marseille in the last eight after following up their 1-0 first-leg win in Germany by taking a second-minute lead at the Velodrome through Bruma. But the hosts fought back and went 3-1 up on the day by half-time – a Stefan Ilsanker own goal, Bouna Sarr and Thauvin doing the damage. Young Frenchman Jean-Kevin Augustin got Leipzig’s second of the day just after the break and that would have been enough to send the Bundesliga side through on away goals, but Payet put Marseille ahead on aggregate again on the hour and Hiroki Sakai secured the 5-2 win late on.
Semi-final: Red Bull Salzburg – 3-2 agg
After clinching a first European semi-final tie since 2004, Marseille managed to avoid favourites Atletico and Arsenal, instead drawing their group-stage rivals Salzburg. A 2-0 first-leg victory seemingly had them easing to the final, only for Salzburg to fight back at home, winning by the same score after 90 minutes to force extra-time, but that is when it got contentious. Rolando scored Marseille a vital away goal in the 116th minute, but the corner from which it was scored was an incorrect decision, sparking angry scenes. Garcia’s side held on, as Marco Rose was left to rue poor refereeing.