• Matthew Whiley

Match Report: Marseille 1-1 Lyon (28/02/21)

Arkadiusz Milik’s controversially-awarded penalty cancelled out Karl Toko Ekambi’s opener as Marseille and ten-man Lyon shared the points in an eventful encounter at the Stade Vélodrome.

In a game light on goalscoring chances but featuring several contentious moments, third-placed Lyon started brightly but ran out of steam as the hosts stretched their unbeaten run to five games.

Toko Ekambi fired the visitors into a deserved lead with 21 minutes on the clock when he picked up Lucas Paquetá’s low cross and curled a lovely finish across Steve Mandanda into the bottom right corner.

Milik, celebrating his 27th birthday, then stroked the equaliser home from the spot shortly before the break after Paquetá had handled Pape Gueye’s shot, despite replays suggesting that the ball had initially hit his midriff before rebounding onto his arm.

Having been booked for that offence, Paquetá was then dismissed midway through the second half for a second yellow card after he caught Dimitri Payet’s ankle.

Memphis Depay almost won the tie late on when he rounded Mandanda and finished from a tight angle, but the offside flag was correctly raised to deny the Dutchman.

Rudi Garcia’s Lyon lacked their shooting boots for much of the encounter and saw several attempts go blazing off target, with Memphis’ low strike from just outside the box shortly after half time fizzing wide.

Les Gones started well but faded somewhat afterwards, which allowed Marseille back into the game, although Florian Thauvin should have done better with a header when his side were still trailing.

Saîf-Eddine Khaoui’s vicious second-half hit from inside the box following Thauvin’s driving run and cross then rippled the side netting as Marseille hunted a turnaround.

Following Paquetá’s dismissal, tempers flared and opposing players squared up to one another on more than one occasion, resulting in copious use of referee Benoît Millot’s yellow card.

Despite that, Paquetá remained the only man to see red, and as time ticked down, further chances dried up, with both sides ultimately walking off the pitch having gained a point apiece.

A game enlivened by controversy

It is usually the case that when the major talking points to arise from a game involve the officiating, the action itself was somewhat lacking in quality, and that was most definitely the case in this particular encounter.

Of the 23 shots in this game, just three were on target, with the amount of cards brandished – nine, composed of eight yellows and a red – comfortably outnumbering the amount of chances that either team had to score.

The first real contentious moment came five minutes before the break, when Alvaro González directed a header into Jason Denayer’s arm from close range, but the hosts’ appeals for a penalty were waved away by referee Benoît Millot.

It appeared accidental, given that the header was very close to Denayer, but the handball law in its current guise states that a penalty should have been given, making the lack of intervention from VAR a little baffling.

Any feelings of relief from Denayer were soon replaced by ones of exasperation, as two minutes later, a penalty was given that, according to the law, should not have been.

After the ball had fallen to him following Dimitri Payet’s corner, Pape Gueye struck a vicious shot from just inside the box that rebounded off Lucas Paquetá’s side and arm.

The law states that if the ball hits a player's arm directly from the player's own head or body”, then a handball offence has not been committed, and given that replays were very clear in showing the ball had struck Paquetá’s body before his arm, the Brazilian was unfortunate to concede the penalty.

The visitors were rightly aggrieved at the awarding of the penalty, with Paquetá even going as far as to lift up his shirt in an attempt to show Millot the mark where the ball had struck his torso.

However, Marseille could well point to the Denayer incident just moments before to support the argument that this was simply a balance being redressed.

Millot’s night in the spotlight wasn’t done there, however, and his second-half decision to dismiss Paquetá for two bookable offences created a further talking point.

While Paquetá could have had no complaints about his second booking after his foul on Payet, the question is whether that should have been the only card that the former AC Milan midfielder was shown.

It was a deeply unfortunate end to the game for Paquetá, who had played well up to that point and had earlier set up Toko Ekambi to put Lyon into the lead, but ultimately, the referee’s decision is the one that must stand.

Payet the stand-out for Marseille

Marseille are a club mired in infighting, with fans having stormed the club’s training ground only a month ago in a protest directed at the ownership, but with the appointment of a new president on Friday, coupled with steadier results in recent weeks, there are signs the tide is turning.

Tonight’s game was the latest example of that, as Les Phocéens were slow out of the blocks, but the fight they showed as the game wore on ensured they were able to end up with a point.

Much of their attacking play was directed through midfield talisman Dimitri Payet, whose cutting passes and aerial deliveries into the box were problematic for the Lyon defence.

Indeed, failure to effectively clear a Payet corner indirectly resulted in the awarding of the penalty, however debatable that particular decision was.

English fans were treated to 18 months of Payet’s abilities during his spell at West Ham, and although he left East London in acrimonious circumstances in January 2017, on the evidence of this match, his footballing talent has not diminished since his return to France.

Lyon miss the chance to leapfrog PSG

Ligue 1 is frequently the target of international scorn for its perceived uncompetitive nature, with Paris Saint-Germain having won the league in seven of the last eight seasons.

However, this campaign looks to be shaping up for an exciting finish, as with 11 games remaining, just four points separate the top four sides, and PSG find themselves in second, two points behind Lille.

After this game, Lyon are now only a solitary point further back in third, but could have overtaken PSG with victory on the south coast, and after their bright start, they will likely view this as an opportunity squandered.

Meanwhile, Marseille sit seventh, with a game in hand on both Lens and Metz above, and they know that a win in that extra game would propel them to fifth.

With Les Phocéens now on their longest unbeaten run of the season, they will be full of confidence that they can put their recent troubles behind them to push their way up the table.

Player ratings

Marseille: Mandanda (GK) (c) 6, Nagatomo 6, Caleta-Car 6, Gonzalez 6, Lirola 6, Gueye 7, Kamara 7, Khaoui 6 (Cuisance 72’ 6), Payet 7, Thauvin 7, Milik 7.

Unused: Pelé (GK), Ngapandouetnbu (GK), Balerdi, Perrin, Rocchia, Ntcham, Henrique, Germain.

Lyon: Lopes (GK) 6, Cornet 7 (De Sciglio 73’ 6), Denayer 6, Marcelo 6, Dubois 6 (Diomande 86’ 6), Aouar 7 (Guimarães 73’ 6), Mendes 6, Paquetá 5, Toko Ekambi 8 (Cherki 66’ 6), Memphis (c) 7, Kadewere 6 (Slimani 86’ 6).

Unused: Pollersbeck (GK), Bard, Benlamri, Caqueret.