Marseille turn to Payet as race for 2nd place heats up

PARIS (AP) — Marseille are under pressure to retain second place in the French championship and will need Dimitri Payet in his best form to secure an automatic entry into the Champions League next season.

Payet, 35, is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career and is on course to break his career record for most goals in a season.

As the race heats up for second place behind Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille are just three points clear of third-placed Rennes and in-form Monaco. These two clubs are only separated by goal difference, with Monaco advancing to the Champions League after a run of seven wins.

Monaco haven’t looked back since beating PSG 3-0 at home in March, and the mid-season hire of coach Philippe Clement to replace Niko Kovac is paying off.

Monaco have scored 17 goals in their winning streak, including a win at Rennes, and striker Wissam Ben Yedder is tied for second with Rennes striker Martin Terrier in the goalscoring charts with 21 goals. They are three behind Kylian Mbappe of PSG.

Monaco will play Lille, the French championship champion of last season, on Friday. Marseille is in Lorient on Sunday. Rennes are at Nantes, but that game won’t be played until next Wednesday as Nantes will face Nice in the Coupe de France final on Saturday.

This gives Monaco and Marseille the chance to put pressure on Rennes with wins. Although the Marseille side will need to recover quickly to reset after facing Feyenoord on Thursday in the second leg of their Europa Conference League semi-final.

For Marseille, everything depends on the form of Payet. Despite his advanced age, he scored 12 goals – his best in a season for Marseille – and had nine assists.

With his ability to play as a false nine or position himself as a deep playmaker, Payet is a crucial part of coach Jorge Sampaoli’s 4-3-3 system.

In addition to his goalscoring, Payet’s exceptional ability to hold the ball on goal, the fact that he almost never gives the ball away, combined with his excellent accuracy from free kicks and corners, make him a constant threat for the defenders.

“I play in a well-defined system around me. Many bullets come my way. So for a number 10, there is nothing better than to organize things and be at the heart of the game,” Payet said. “I’m making the most of my last years as a player, that’s why I appreciate him more.”

Although he reads the game quickly, Payet was never a fast player in terms of speed, so he refined his game even more with age.

“Football today is much faster and more athletic. What has changed in my game since the arrival of Jorge Sampaoli is my positioning,” Payet explained. “When you start losing speed and explosiveness, you can always follow and make a difference if you are well placed between the lines and able to find space.”

But when Payet isn’t at his best, like in the 3-0 home loss to Lyon last Sunday, Marseille struggle more.

If the former France international needs any extra motivation for the home stretch, he is one behind his best league goal tally in a season – he scored 13 for Saint-Etienne in 2010-11.


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