Marseille draws with Lorient, Nice beats Rennes in Ligue 1
PARIS (AP) — Marseille players were booed off the pitch Sunday after being held 1–1 by Lorient in the French league as the nine-time champions' dismal season continued.
Marseille failed to hold its lead when Lorient striker Benjamin Moukandjo equalized for the visitors in the 37th minute at the Stade Velodrome.
Marseille dominated but lacked a cutting edge after Michy Batshuayi scored from the penalty spot in the 22nd to move to the top of the league scoring table with seven goals. Hatem Ben Arfa later joined the Belgium striker as the joint top scorer with a superb goal in Nice's 4–1 win at Rennes.
Marseille has now failed to win its last six matches in all competitions and is just four points above the relegation zone—or some 17 points behind league leader Paris Saint-Germain. Marseille's last win came in September—a 3–0 victory at Groningen in the Europa League.
Since taking over from Marcelo Bielsa this summer, Marseille coach Michel has failed to find the winning formula, with the club sitting in 16th place with nine points from 10 games.
"We are in an emergency situation," said Cameroon defender Nicolas Nkoulou. "We needed the three points, obviously we are disappointed."
Just two points above Marseille, 14th-place Bordeaux was held 0–0 at home by struggling Montpellier in a match lacking chances for both sides.
After spending six months out of action after his transfer to Nice was blocked by French soccer authorities in January because of FIFA rules, the 28-year-old Ben Arfa is finding his form again. With his seventh goal in just nine league matches, Ben Arfa has already improved his season-best tally with a French club.
After collecting the ball on the right side, the former Newcastle player turned Rennes captain Sylvain Armand with a quick dribble and scored with an angled shot to make it 2–0 in the 53rd minute after Mathieu Bodmer had opened the scoring in the first half.
Goals from Mahamane Traore and Said Benrahma made it a rout, before Kamil Grosicki scored a consolation goal for Rennes with two minutes left.
Nice, which boasts the league's best attacking record with 24 goals, moved up to fifth, with 17 points and a match in hand to the four teams above it.
Ben Arfa has not given up the hope of being included in France's squad for next year's European Championship. Once regarded as a future great, Ben Arfa has failed to live up to expectations and his career with France has stalled since a dispute with former coach Laurent Blanc at Euro 2012. He has scored two goals with the national team.
With a partial closure at the Velodrome because of fan trouble last month, the hosts' first chance came after eight minutes when Batshuayi's curled effort forced keeper Benjamin Lecomte to parry the ball on to the cross bar. The ball rebounded into Romain Alessandrini's path and the midfielder fired into the back of the net but his goal was disallowed because he was in an offside position.
Marseille enjoyed most of the possession and entertained its reduced fanbase with a series of skillful moves down the left flank before Lucas Ocampos unintentionally drew a penalty. The Marseille forward sloppily gave the ball away, only for defender Francois Bellugou to handle it in the box. Batshuayi sent Lecomte the wrong way to convert from the spot.
Unable to break down the Marseille defense, eighth-place Lorient relied on aimless long-range shots although Moukandjo came close with a 20-meter strike that ended inches wide at the half-hour mark.
Moukandjo made no mistake seven minutes later against the run of the play, taking advantage of a superb lofted ball from Bellugou to beat Steve Mandanda from close range after shaking off defender Nicolas Nkoulou.
Marseille exposed itself to counterattacks in the second half while Batshuayi was repeatedly caught offside. Marseille could even have conceded again had it not been for Mandanda's decisive save in the 57th minute, when the reserve France keeper expertly boxed away a shot from Romain Philippoteaux.
Some frustrated Marseille fans started to boo and whistle with 15 minutes left to play. Moments later, Alessandrini forced Lecomte into another good diving save to his right with a precise low shot from the edge of the box but the hosts' presssing remained fruitless.