LIGUE 1: SEASON REVIEW: OM and Rennes riding high
Olympique de Marseille are back in the Champions League for the first time since 2013
OLYMPIQUE DE MARSEILLE
Attracting André Villas-Boas to the Orange Vélodrome to succeed Rudi Garcia was a coup by club president Jacques-Henri Eyraud. It afforded the Portuguese coach the chance to re-establish his reputation in western Europe and the appointment paid off as the former Porto boss got the best out of a thin squad.
With funds limited, OM didn't have much room for manoeuvre in the summer transfer market but the signings they made all performed significant roles. Villas-Boas very much built his side from the back and Alvaro Gonzalez, signed on loan with an option to buy from Villarreal, was outstanding at centre-half, not featuring in a losing OM team until the 3-1 home loss to Nantes on February 22.
The hard-running Dario Benedetto, signed from Boca Juniors, had la grinta to make him a Vélodrome favourite and he struck seven important goals in the first half of the season. A goal drought followed but Benedetto returned to form just before the season was suspended, scoring his first OM hat-trick in the 3-2 win at Nîmes at the end of February.
Nantes captain Valentin Rongier joined as an additional player at the start of September and the way he covered the ground in harness with fellow midfielder Morgan Sanson made life very difficult for OM's opponents. Youth product Boubacar Kamara excelled whether used at centre-half or - as the season wore on- in midfield.
Yet it was getting the best out of the old guard that brought the greatest credit to Villas-Boas. Dimitri Payet rolled back the years and played so well that there was talk of a France recall. In 22 appearances the attacker from the island of La Réunion contributed nine goals and four assists. In goal Steve Mandanda was fit and firing, inspired by Villas-Boas restoring the captain's armband to him.