Marseille 1-1 Atalanta: Exuberant hosts fail to make the most of excellent performance at the Stade Vélodrome

It was a fascinating clash between Marseille and Atalanta, with neither able to put one foot in the UEFA Europa League final during the first leg of their semifinal on Thursday.

First half goals from Gianluca Scamacca and Chancel Mbemba settled the score, but it was missed opportunities which defined a thrilling game of football.

As it happened

With thunder and rain setting the scene and a cauldron of noise greeting the players, Marseille’s stadium was more of an amphitheatre than a velodrome – and it’s easy to see why: seventh in Ligue 1 and out of the Coupe de France, the Europa League remains les Olympiens’ last shot at glory this season.

Jean-Pierre Gasset’s side exceeded all expectations to put the visitors on the back foot for much of the first half – but things didn’t go all their way right from the off.

It took 11 minutes for the first goal to hit the back of the net, and it didn’t come from a Marseille player. Instead it was Atalanta’s top-scorer Gianluca Scamacca who opened the scoring, drilling an excellent finish past a helpless Pau López after a lovely interchange from Éderson and Teun Koopmeiners. Really, it was far too easy for La Dea.

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But Marseille wouldn’t take it lying down. On fifteen minutes, they created their first big chance, with Luis Henrique teasing a ball past Juan Musso in the direction of Ismaïla Sarr, who would’ve scored had it not been for the intervention of a familiar face. With the keeper beaten, it was former Marseille man Sead Kolašinac who crucially headed the ball clear – but the clearance was at the expense of his own game. After an awkward landing, his hamstring tweaked and his game was over, with Mario Pašalić coming on to take his place.

From then on, it was all Marseille, and they would only have to wait five minutes to find their equaliser. Jonathan Clauss won a corner on the right-hand side, and after a short one-two with Amine Harit, the Frenchman found Geoffrey Kondogbia, who simply passed to centre half Chancel Mbemba. 25 yards from goal, it would be a stretch to even describe it as a chance; but the former Newcastle man wrapped a terrific strike off Musso’s left post, leaving the Argentine totally bamboozled after the ball passed him helplessly into the back of the net. 

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Marseille would only have two more attempts in the first half, the most notable of which coming from their man for the big occasion. With 27 goals this season, including 10 in the Europa League, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the perfect man for the ball to fall to just inside the Atalanta penalty area. But after excellent work from Jordan Veretout and Amine Harit, the former Arsenal man couldn’t apply the finishing touch, slipping his left-footed shot agonisingly wide of Pau López’s far post. It was a guilt-edged chance, and the closest the hosts would come to scoring again.

It was a case of domination; not necessarily in terms of possession, which sat at roughly 50/50 for the entire game, but in terms of directness and dynamism. Where Atalanta were sluggish and sloppy, Marseille had vigour, and wasted no time cutting through the visitors’ backline.

Les Olympiens started the second half in much the same way as the first, constantly putting pressure on Musso’s goal, with Aubameyang and Sarr testing the waters in the first three minutes. But, the Midas touch was missing, and they continued to struggle to turn chances into goals. 

Atalanta would still try to have their say, though, but their attempts were largely limited to speculative efforts from outside the box; Koopmeiners would try his luck twice, and substitute Aleksey Miranchuk came within inches of winning it right at the end. 

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Impact subs were a big theme of the second half; Ademola Lookman livened up a stagnant Atalanta, and Amadine Ounahi hit the crossbar with his very first touch for Marseille. In the end, though, it was all in vain: no goals would follow the two in the first half, and 1-1 was the final score.

The result represents a missed opportunity for Marseille, who have lost only once at home this season; a big win here could’ve mitigated the danger of next week’s trip to Bergamo – but they have a big advantage in the form of a week-long break before the second leg. 

For Atalanta, they’ll simply be glad it’s over. They hung on for much of the game, and Gian Piero Gasperini’s men will be looking for a more cohesive display in next week’s crunch tie. 

La Dea travel to Salernitana in the meantime, and with a Coppa Italia final on the horizon, they have two shots at their second ever major title. For Marseille, however, it could be make-or-break next week when they aim to reach their first Europa League final since 2018. 

The lineups

OM: López; Henrique, Murillo, Balerdi, Mbemba, Clauss; Harit, Kondogbia, Veretout; Aubameyang, Sarr

ATA: Musso; Kolašinac, Scalvini, Djimsiti; Ruggeri, Éderson, de Roon, Zappacosta, Koopmeiners; Scamacca, de Ketelaere