Marseille 2-0 RB Salzburg: Payet's impressive performance carries OM to semifinal victory
Dimitri Payet has done it again.
The French playmaker was coming off a brilliant performance in his last European match, registering a goal and an assist during Olympique Marseille’s 5-2 win over RB Leipzig in the Europa League quarterfinals. He chose to shine again, this time in the semifinal first leg against RB Salzburg.
And that’s what the French playmaker did. The former West Ham winger pulled the strings for Marseille in the final third. He established a great partnership with Lucas Ocampos and Florian Thauvin, carrying the team offensively en route to a 2-0 win that puts OM in the driver's seat for a ticket to the final.
Payet was all over the place from the start, at the helm of most of Marseille’s attacking opportunities. He set up the team’s first goal in the 15th minute when a cross to the far post found Thauvin. The Toon exile nodded the ball home from close range unopposed. It might have struck his hand on the way in but there is no VAR as yet in the Europa League. Salzburg goalkeeper Alexander Walke took himself out of the play when he couldn’t intercept the cross.
The Austrian champions responded for a time but struggled to create chances. Aside from Stefan Lainer’s attacking runs and Moanes Dabour's mobility in close, Salzburg didn’t do much. The first half ended with a 1-0 lead for the Ligue 1 side.
Things got off to a different start in the second half. Die Bullen began with a more positive approach. They almost levelled terms. But when things got tougher, Payet came through again. Slaven Bilic's most despised player provided Marseille’s second goal through Clinton N’Jie, who had come into the game minutes earlier and placed the ball beyond Walke’s reach with a beautiful finish.
Salzburg didn’t give up. They were within inches of pulling one back in the 70th minute. Fredrik Gulbrandsen smashed a close-range finish off the post when Yohann Pele was defeated.
But Salzburg faded away down the stretch, and Marseille came through with a solid 2-0 win at home. They should definitively thank Payet for him. Without him, this could have been an entirely different game.
There’s no question Payet was the game's undisputed star but he wasn’t the only player who performed at a high level for Marseille.
Thauvin scored the first goal but also represented a constant threat on the right wing. His society with Payet and Maxime Lopez was excellent. It was a primary reason the French side controlled possession throughout. N’Jie was impressive off the bench and Pele came through every time the opposing forwards tested him, save for when the woodwork saved his blushes.
Lainer deserves praise for Salzburg. An attack-minded fullback known for pushing forward constantly, he was possibly Salzburg’s biggest attacking threat. It won't be shocking if he moves to a bigger club during the upcoming transfer window. He’s too good for the Austrian Bundesliga.
In the end, it was a solid win for Marseille. They didn’t dominate the game but did enough to move closer to their first European final since losing the UEFA Cup to Valencia in 2004. Salzburg will need to be much better to turn things around, but they already faced a similar situation against Lazio and completed the comeback.