For Marseille, passage to Lyon might not be that far off geographically, and it is now close on a footballing basis as well, as they are well and truly in control of their semi-final tie against Red Bull Salzburg, following a first leg win at the Velodrome.
The atmosphere from the home crowd was fervent, on the ground where Marseille saw off the other Red Bull team in Leipzig in the last round, after a handful of scares. But it looked straightforward here, as they took the lead within 10 minutes. After Lucas Ocampos won a free-kick on the right-hand side, Dimitri Payet floated the ball across the Salzburg defence, and Florian Thauvin, star of this season for the club, turned the ball home from close range. There looked to be a suspicion of handball, but Thauvin didn’t care, nor did the home crowd, L’OM had made the perfect start.
For most of the opening half though, it was rather subdued. Tackles flew and near-miss moments came and went at both ends, but not much in terms of chances, Marseille goalie Yohann Pele might have been the busier goalkeeper, but it still didn’t say much about the game. For Marseille, the cross seemed overhit, the pull-backs ill-timed; while at the other end, it looked like one pass too many, or one pass short for the visitors.
Salzburg were not about to throw in the towel though. They had beaten Dortmund and Lazio, two of the favourites, in the past two rounds, and were sure to trouble Marseille here. They began the second half on the front foot, Stefan Lainer appealing for a penalty after a tussle with Jordan Amavi, which fell on deaf ears, while Hannes Wolf forced a sharp save from Pele.
But as much they threatened, the Austrian side would find no way through, and they would be punished with 18 minutes left, as Payet played the role of supplier again, this time to Clinton Njie. The Cameroonian had just come on for Maxime Lopez, and slotted home a calm finish for his first contribution of the game.
But Salzburg pushed forward still, another penalty shout fell on deaf ears, but the biggest moment came when Fredrik Gulbrandsen hit the post from close range. There would be no away goal for Marco Rose’s team this time. They have negotiated big ties against Lazio and Dortmund, but the second leg at the Red Bull Arena next week could be their biggest yet.