Marseille will welcome Azerbaijani side Qarabag to southern France on Thursday for the first leg of their Europa Conference League knockout playoff tie.
The hosts find themselves batting for a round-of-16 place after failing to qualify in the Europa League, while their visitors earned a spot at this stage with a second-placed finish in their Conference League group.
In their first Europa League appearance in three years, Marseille quickly saw their qualification hopes dwindle this term, as consecutive draws with Lokomotiv Moscow, Galatasaray and Lazio on two occasions were followed by a 4-2 defeat in the reverse fixture with Galatasaray.
While their 1-0 win over Lokomotiv Moscow in the final round of fixtures was not enough to book a knockout spot in Europe’s secondary competition, it did comfortably seal a third-placed finish in the group, allowing them a final shot at continental football this term in the form of the Conference League.
They head into this new chapter on the back of an eye-catching first half to the domestic campaign, with Jorge Sampaoli’s side sat second in Ligue 1 after 24 games with 46 points, just 14 fewer than they managed in the entirety of last season.
That includes back-to-back league wins heading into Thursday’s first leg, as a 5-2 thrashing of Angers was following by a hard-fought 2-1 win over Metz last time out, with Arkadiusz Milik netting the decisive goal.
Now with the pressure on their shoulders and a home leg to begin the tie, Les Olympiens will look to set the tone with a victory on Thursday.
Qarabag manager Gurban Gurbanov pictured on November 5, 2020© Reuters
They welcome a Qarabag side who find themselves in the playoffs thanks to their second-placed finish in the group stage, having started with a draw against group favourites Basel and consecutive victories over Omonia Nicosia and Kairat on two occasions.
Following a draw with Omonia and a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Basel in the final game, Gurban Gurbanov’s side fell short in the race for top spot with the latter, forcing them to go through a playoff round to attempt to earn a place in the final 16.
In relatively unsurprising fashion, the Horsemen are dominating on the domestic front this season, currently topping the Azerbaijani Premier League with 36 points from their 15 games, having netted 32 goals and only conceded nine.
Most recently, Gurbanov’s men booked their place in the domestic cup semi-final with a 6-0 second-leg drubbing of FC Inter Baku thanks to braces from Ibrahima Wadji and Ramil Sheydayev and goals from Patrick Andrade and Musa Gurbanli.
They now head into a particularly tough away game looking to bring a positive result back to eastern Europe ahead of next week’s second leg.