It's the shock of the end of the season, the battle to determine the order of the podium. On Saturday May 6, the Racing Club de Lens (RCL) receives Olympique de Marseille (OM) at the Bollaert-Delelis stadium (9 p.m.). At stake: second place in Ligue 1, crucial for direct qualification in the Champions League, five days before the end of the season.
Beaten in their den of the Vélodrome at the end of October by the Sang et Or (0-1), the Marseillais will be revengeful. And they will be counting on their Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez to extend their away streak – OM are unbeaten there for eleven games in Ligue 1. At 34, the former niño maravilla ("child prodigy") will try to make win his team, a week after scoring his 13th goal in 33 games, against Auxerre.
For years, the legend of the "great striker" - even "grantakan" with the accent - missing from OM to compete in the European Cup has been circulating on the Old Port. Free of any contract after his move to Inter Milan, Alexis Sanchez seemed the ideal candidate in the eyes of Marseille president Pablo Longoria to join the Olympian group, second in Ligue 1 last season.
The fiery welcome that the Marseille fans gave to the native of Tocopilla (in the north of Chile) on his arrival in early August, testified to their expectations, despite the uncertainty linked to his lack of playing time since several seasons. “He has demonstrated a very high level of competitiveness in recent seasons with Inter, swept the OM boss during the player's presentation. To build a competitive team, you need hard work, high standards and a good mentality. Alexis has won everywhere and it is necessary to have players with this type of mentality. »
Leader on and off the pitch
Alexis Sanchez, passed by FC Barcelona and by the English clubs of Arsenal and Manchester United, transcended the offensive sector of Marseille, by his experience, his technique and his grinta (competitiveness). Very quickly, OM number 70 became an essential part of the attacking and physical game system advocated by Croatian coach Igor Tudor.
Author of a double against Nice, the Mediterranean rival, at the start of the season, the Chilean launched his adventure in the Bouches-du-Rhône without delay. And immediately seduces his supporters, who sing, the following match, a song to his glory. Thirty-three games, seventeen goals and two assists later – in all competitions – the versatile striker is guiding his club, and Pablo Longoria can congratulate himself on the success of his bet.
Exemplary on the ground, Alexis Sanchez is also outside. Combining a combative state of mind and great experience - eighteen professional seasons - the South American has established himself as part of the Marseille locker room. “He has values as important as his talent, praised Igor Tudor at a press conference in early March. He arrives at the Commanderie [the Robert-Louis-Dreyfus training center] three hours before the start of training to go to the gym, it is an example of professionalism. »
The Croatian technician is not the only one to be impressed by his striker. "We say thank you. He is a very great striker who always responds, reacts Marseille midfielder Jordan Veretout, after Sanchez's decisive double against Reims on March 19. Despite his great career, he continues to fight and does not stop encouraging us. »
The ambition to seek the title
Nine months after his arrival on the Canebière, the one who won the Copa America twice has been adopted by all Marseillais. "Last season he didn't play much and he was left on a very average stint at Manchester United. God knows I love this player, but I thought he was charred, but he is far from it, enthused Eric Di Meco, European champion with OM in 1993, at the end of March on RMC . Some players around him would do well to take the seed when they finish games. »
As the outcome of this 2022-2023 exercise approaches, the Marseille goleador has not hidden his ambitions. “We are only five points behind Paris, I like that because you have to believe in the title. I think we can be champions. We have the team and the players to do it, ”assured the Chilean international at the microphone of Prime Video, after his winning goal against Auxerre, Sunday April 30. Like their opponents from Lens (69 points against 70 for Marseille), the Phocaeans have the opportunity, on Saturday, to put pressure on the Parisian leader in distress.
In the fortress of Bollaert – only one defeat this season – OM will need a great Alexis Sanchez to keep their second place. “There remains a constant danger for the opposing defence. OM pulled off a good number with him,” observes former Marseille defender Marius Trésor. Who hopes that the most Marseilles of Chileans will stay on the Canebière at the end of the season: "On what he has shown since he has been there, it would be a shame not to keep him. An extension that could depend on OM's final ranking at the end of the season. And therefore of the Marseille result in artesian lands.