He had probably not imagined this end of the season there and yet. After spending many months on the bench (18 games played all the same), despite the Europa League Conference and the Coupe de France, Steve Mandanda should start again against Rennes on the 37th day of Ligue 1. It will be so the 5th time in the last 6 matches in all competitions, a first in this exercise. An unexpected turnaround, including the main interested party but which is explained by a number of factors, starting with the form of its competitor.
Performing throughout the season, Pau Lopez experienced a slight drop in speed. His performances against PSG (1-2) and OL (0-3), a match he shouldn’t have played, are there to prove it. Mandanda had even declined the number 1 spot against Les Gones, arguing with his coach that he preferred to focus on the C4 semi-final second leg against Feyenoord. This did not break the trust, diminished over the season but never broken, between the two men.
Mandanda still performing
The French international has also been able to maintain a certain level of performance. On the lawn of PAOK in the quarter-finals of the Europa League Conference, he kept his team in the match by making several high-class parades. What reinforce the choice of Sampaoli, also aware of the weight that the doorman represents in the eyes of the supporters. From the top of his 610 appearances since his arrival at OM in 2007, Il Fenomeno is still the most capped player in the history of the club and adored by the Vélodrome.
“Steve is a competitor, we all are, we want to play as many matches as possible. Even at that age, being relegated to number two for a while, he didn’t give up. The competition between the two keepers was healthy. It was not easy for the coach. Steve was great in his way of being, of staying positive. We are happy for him too. We know what it can bring us”explained Valentin Rongier at a press conference two days before the very important trip to Roazhon Park.
From the spleen of the substitute to a starting place
Having become number 2 for Pau Lopez at the end of the summer, the emblematic Marseille goalkeeper dragged his spleen more and more as the season progressed. According to The Team, Pablo Longoria and Jorge Sampaoli even discovered bundles of clues leading to the belief that the 37-year-old goalkeeper was no longer involved as before. A departure this summer could have been feared, but OM have not planned to recruit a goalkeeper, while their finances are already tight. This also had to be avoided. And then the injury of Dimitri Payet ended up finishing off the Argentine coach for the last games.
“The decision is linked to several factors, the athlete and the leadership. Leaders are needed in decisive matchesassured the coach Thursday to the press. The choice in the last matches has been difficult. These are coaching decisions, at the time, in relation to what we see in training and the needs of the group. It is very difficult for me to choose between two players who are so important in this position. Pau Lopez had a great season, and Steve has improved a lot lately, he’s in great shape. When he’s fit, he’s a different player. It’s great competition.”
Experience and leadership brought to a young dressing room
In other words, OM need leaders on the pitch and in the locker room to tackle this final sprint. Captain for many years, Mandanda is not a barker but he has the charisma and the legitimacy necessary to address his young partners. And in Marseille, not many of them can do it because with Payet’s injury and the sidelining of Alvaro Gonzalez in the middle of the season, there is little more than the experienced goalkeeper and Mattéo Guendouzi. They will not be too many to get this 2nd place and the qualification in C1.
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