Nothing is really going right at the moment on the side of Olympique de Marseille (OM) and the Marseille club is not far from a new upset, before its quarter-final first leg of the Europa League, Thursday April 11 (9 p.m.), on the pitch of Benfica Lisbon. The Portuguese club, whose supporters could be banned from traveling to the return match in Marseille for security reasons, had decided in retaliation on Tuesday not to allow Marseille fans to attend this evening’s match, while some were were already there.

This diplomatic incident between the two clubs – President Pablo Longoria threatened to boycott the meeting – was finally resolved a few hours before kick-off this Thursday and Marseille supporters will indeed be able to support their team. OM will really need it. Beyond these adventures, the Marseille players must ignore a heavy context and as they approach this meeting, they are still healing their wounds, both physical and mental.

Deprived of several injured players, OM have just suffered four defeats in a row, the first for Jean-Louis Gasset as coach of the Marseille club. In football more than elsewhere, love does not last three years but rather three months, and it was in reality three weeks that the romance between the new Marseille technician and his players lasted.

Gasset was first able to find the words to initiate a recovery, with five victories in the five matches which followed his arrival. But the confidence disappeared as quickly as it had returned. OM’s heavy defeat (1-3) in Lille on Friday April 5 plunged the club back into disaster.

OM have not won for a month

“We could have dreamed of a happier end to the season than expected. But when you make such a copy, when you give away the match, when 1,000 supporters came and thousands watched in front of the TV, there is a kind of feeling of shame. We disrespected football and a lot of people,” Gasset said after the match. OM, 8th in Ligue 1, have certainly said goodbye to their chances of qualifying for the next Champions League through a good place in the championship because Lille, 4th, is now 10 points behind.

However, the Marseille club still has one way to compete in the next C1: winning the Europa League. “It’s a bit of a ray [of sunshine] in our season, this European Cup, that’s why we’ll have to hang on to it, and give everything in these two matches,” said, on Wednesday, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marseille striker. OM are therefore ready to go all-in on the Europa League, with a bit of a bluff: they have not won since March 10 against Nantes (2-0), are going through a chaotic season marked by three changes of coach and sees his infirmary continue to fill up as the weeks progress.

In Lisbon, a diminished OM presents itself, deprived of its captain Valentin Rongier, and two of its best players at the start of 2024, Jonathan Clauss and Ismaïla Sarr. Six elements present in Lille are not qualified to play in the Europa League, including Ulisses Garcia, left back who helped out at right back in the last two matches. Gasset will therefore continue to tinker and Chancel Mbemba, in the recovery phase after a knee injury, could play in this unusual position for him.

The ghost of Vata

Despite the good performances of Aubameyang – top scorer in the Europa League –, OM are therefore not favorites against Benfica, 2nd in the Portuguese championship after winning it in 2023. Marseille can still believe in it, because the club knows how to do things in the European Cup, as evidenced by the qualifications for the Europa League final, in 2018, and the Europa Conference League semi-final, in 2022.

But also because Benfica was not completely sovereign during the two previous rounds and with difficulty eliminated Toulouse then the Glasgow Rangers. The Lisbon team will be led by former Parisian Angel Di Maria, who had already eliminated OM with Benfica in 2010, in the round of 16 of the Europa League.

The Argentine world champion was not yet there in 1990, the most salient and painful memory of Benfica for Marseille supporters. The Marseille club was eliminated in the semi-finals of the Champions League after a goal scored with the hand by the Angolan Vata. OM were then an ambitious young wolf on the continental scene, close to being the first French club to win a European Cup. Thirty-four later, Marseille have become a wounded beast desperate to pursue their European dream.