L'OM were frustrated at home against a resolute Valenciennes side, as they failed to close the gap on leaders PSG and Montpellier ahead of the visit of Inter on WednesdayOlympique de Marseille prepared for the visit of Inter in the Champions League on Wednesday with a frustrating 1-1 draw against Valenciennes in an entertaining Ligue 1 game at Stade Velodrome on Saturday evening.
An early goal from Alou Diarra put L'OM in the driving seat after 16 minutes, but the visitors, who were largely on the back foot, restored parity after a defensive lapse saw Carlos Gil capitalize and bring VA level. Despite the various chances, profligate finishing would ultimately lead to a point shared apiece.
Didier Deschamps rang the changes to his usual side with the return of brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew to the lineup upon their return from the Africa Cup of Nations. Rod Fanni also replaced Cesar Azpilicueta with Djimi Traore given the nod at left back ahead of Jeremy Morel with one eye on the visit of Claudio Ranieri's side on Wednesday.
And it would be Marseille which would control much of the first half play carving out various opportunities. The hosts were particularly strong on the right flank with Fanni proving to be a threatening force.
Jordan Ayew headed into Nicolas Penneteau's arms from a long ball delivered by the ex-Stade Rennes defender in the early stages, and it would be by the same move that the hosts would seek their breakthrough.
Fanni evaded his marker with ease before sweeping in a first-time cross from the right-hand side, and Alou Diarra rose highest to direct the ball home after 16 minutes.
Deschamps' side was particularly dominant at this stage, and almost doubled their tally moments later. Jordan Ayew raced into a good position and attempted an audacious chip which beat Penneteau, only for the ball to crash against the bar as Daniel Sanchez's men breathed a sigh of relief.
L'OM, who were missing the influential Loic Remy after the top scorer pulled a hamstring in midweek, were lucky not to have been penalized after a controversial call. Renaud Cohade headed goalwards from a corner, with Charles Kabore appearing to have illegally blocked the ball with his hand but referee Said Ennijimi waved play on.
The hosts were again controlling, and again carved open opportunities. Jordan Ayew single-handedly skipped past a gaggle of defenders before laying off for Valbuena, who fired a first-time shot wide.
Deschamps' men were dealt a double blow in the opening minutes of the second half. Goalscorer Diarra was forced off with an injury which renders his participation against Inter as doubtful, as Benoit Cheyrou replaced him.
Moments later, Marseille was pegged back after poor defending following a set piece situation. An inswinging corner caused confusion in the box, and while Cheyrou attempted a clearance, it fell to Carlos Gil, who powered home from two yards out after 51 minutes.
Neither side could create the winner despite the various opportunities that were created. Gael Danic fired from distance which would be saved by Mandanda. At the other end, Amalfitano and Ayew's attacking creativity on the wings ultimately failed to materialize into anything serious despite a number of penalty appeals.
The hosts, who endured a rather frustrating second half, were denied a late chance comically by their own player. A loose ball in the box looked to have fallen nicely for Brandao, who incidentally was about to pull the trigger only for Cheyrou to go for the same attempt as the ball deflected of his leg and out of play. The Brazilian almost stole the winner a minute before time but would be denied by Penneteau's fine save.
Following the result, Marseille stretched its unbeaten run in all competitions to 15 games, while also leapfrogging Lyon into fourth place and nine points behind leader PSG. Valenciennes, now on a run of three games unbeaten, is 12th.