By all accounts, Olympique Marseille have not enjoyed the most straightforward of summers. After only just missing out on Champions League qualification last year, the club has seen a number of its star players depart the South of France. Crucially, however, Marcelo Bielsa remains the man in the dugout and the seasoned pro has made a few recruits that have caught the eye.
Eight consecutive victories in the early months of 2014/15 had seen Marseille top the division until the midway point of the campaign before a drop in form took them out of title contention.
Having held such a promising league position that had fans hoping for a first championship since 2010, Monaco ended up beating them to the third and final Champions League spot by two points, consigning Bielsa’s men to the Europa League this year.
And it has been a mixed pre-season so far, registering comfortable wins against Antalyaspor and Tunisian outfit Etoile du Sahel, but also a pair of defeats to Fenerbahce and Livorno.
A new-look OM side is in the process of being assembled for 2015/16, since key men Andre-Pierre Gignac, Andre Ayew, Jeremy Morel and Rod Fanni have all left on free transfers, with midfielders Giannelli Imbula and Dimitri Payet sold to FC Porto and West Ham United respectively.
The loss of this final duo deprives Marseille of two immensely athletic and technically gifted powerhouses in midfield, so crucial to Bielsa’s 3-3-3-1 formation.
Understandably, the former Chile manager has wasted no time in bringing in two players of significant pedigree with matching physical attributes in Lassana Diarra and Abou Diaby from Lokomotiv Moscow and Arsenal respectively.
Gignac, Ligue 1’s second highest goalscorer last season with 21 strikes, opted to join Mexican outfit Tigres after leading the line for five years at the Stade Velodrome.
21-year-old striker Lucas Ocampos will look to fill the Frenchman’s big boots following his arrival from Monaco. The youngster, a compatriot of Bielsa, also has height on his side and gained valuable Champions League experience last term, scoring the winner in the principality’s crucial group stage clash against Bayer Leverkusen.
At 25 years and entering the prime of his career, Ayew’s move to Swansea City represents another big loss. The Ghanaian had established himself as one of Ligue 1’s best attacking players. In five years as a regular on the left flank, he notched 67 goals and provided another 29.
In replacing Ayew, the club has invested again in youth in the form of 20-year-old George-Kevin N’Koudou. Despite only having 34 league matches to his name, the French-Cameroonian has been tipped as a very promising player from his two seasons at Nantes.
Likewise, Karim Rekik, 20, and Javier Manquillo, 21, have been brought in to reinforce a defence that has lost a combined 64 years in Morel and Fanni.
Dutch centre-back Rekik has joined on a permanent deal from Manchester City after a successful two-year loan spell at PSV Eindhoven, while Spaniard Manquillo arrives on loan from Atletico Madrid. The right-back will be hoping for more game time than the 10 appearances he amassed during last season’s spell with Liverpool.
Having witnessed a raft of changes to personnel this summer, Bielsa will be keen to make full use of tonight’s friendly to integrate the recent arrivals and see how they acquit themselves against the champions of Italy.