Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Some thoughts before OM v MHSC

Montpellier v Sochaux, 7 April 2012.

Montpellier are currently top of the table on goal difference, equal with PSG on 63 pts, but with a game in hand. That game will be played today at 5pm BST / 6pm CEST, against Marseille at the Velodrome.

OM have not been having a good time of things recently, with no league wins in two months, and going out of the CdF and the Champions League. Their performance against PSG at the weekend, although they lost, looked a bit more lively, but with the CdlL final coming up this Saturday, they may be focussed on that.

Montpellier are performing very well, but one slight concern for this match is the difference in form home and away; at Mosson they are imperious (14W, 1D, 1L v 5W, 5D, 4L away) but away their only win against top half opposition was at Lille back in August. OM are still in the top half, despite the worst run since 1962 (merci, L'Equipe) but they have to pull themselves together at some point - and there were bright indicators for them on Sunday.

So, a few notes from recent matches - Montpellier have a great deal of skill and power at their disposal, but perhaps not much speed. Bedimo can storm out of defence, Utaka can power his way up the left wing, but the efficiency of Belhanda, and similarly Cabella when deployed in a central role, is more jinky and sneaky than breaking at speed. At home to Sochaux at the weekend, Camara on the right pounced on a rebound to score the winning goal, but otherwise was a fairly quiet presence.

This relative lack of speed could be key - against Bayern, OM struggled massively with the runs of Ribery on the left and Lahm and Muller on the right; however, they also left Kroos with far too much space in the middle - leave Belhanda free in a similar way and he will be very dangerous. If Bedimo can do on the left what Jallet did on the right on Sunday, that would be helpful, but Montpellier can be a bit predictable at times - up the wing, cross, Giroud. Not a bad plan to have, but putting more through the middle could be useful - Nkoulou was solid for OM on Sunday, but his colleague in central defence Mbia seemed more concerned with attacking than defending, and could leaves gaps to be exploited.

A note of concern for MHSC, given their still interesting disciplinary record - Valbuena is a battling bulldog type, and how they deal with him will be key. Against Bayern, Alaba had him covered in a very matter-of-fact way (assisted by a two-goal cushion which meant they were often double-marking him) which led to him being dispossessed several times - and the referee was having none of it as he repeatedly hit the deck. Against PSG, he charged around and won several freekicks (although got booked himself early on, which perhaps reined him in a bit). How Montpellier's backline handle him could be a key issue - their propensity for rash challenges and getting sent off would point that up as an area of concern.

On Saturday, Montpellier looked a little tight - they largely bossed the game against Sochaux, particularly in the second half, but didn't capitalise on the chances they made (17 shots, 11 on target, 2 goals) and with Modibo Maiga pulling off a beautiful goal for the visitors, it was very tense at the end. They held on for the win, but cannot afford to be so profligate against Marseille, who are a much greater threat, although their accuracy is also lacking (16 shots v PSG, only 3 on target).

This is a key game for the Ligue 1 standings, and likely to be very tight; the OM ultras are urging their team to lose to damage PSG's title chances, Remy and Azpi are out (Andre Ayew also doubtful) through injury, and there is some internal strife at the club, but Marseille can never be written off, and Montpellier can be worryingly inconsistent away from home.

Damnit, now I've made myself even more nervous...

MHSC Squad:
Jourdren, Pionnier - Bocaly, Yanga-Mbiwa, Hilton, Bedimo, El Kaoutari, Stambouli, Deplagne, Jeunechamp - Belhanda, Lacombe, Estrada, Pitau, Cabella, Aït-Fana, Lacombe, Saïhi - Giroud, Camara, Utaka