Montpellier faces Marseille in League Cup final
Montpellier looks to end a 21-year trophy drought when it faces Marseille in Saturday's League Cup final, a role reversal from last season when Marseille was the team chasing elusive silverware.
The last time Montpellier won a domestic trophy, an infamously unruly Eric Cantona was playing alongside a scraggly haired Laurent Blanc in the side that won the French Cup in 1990.
Cantona became one of the English Premier League's greatest players with Manchester United, while Blanc now coaches France. In between times, Montpellier seesawed between the first and second divisions.
Marseille coach Didier Deschamps knows how Montpellier's fans feel. Last year, Deschamps ended Marseille's 17-year trophy hunt. First he guided Marseille to victory in the League Cup - the club's first silverware since the Champions League in 1993 - and led it to a first French league title since 1992.
"For us last year, it was the chance for some players to win their first trophy," Deschamps said. "It will be a bit like that for Montpellier, which has not won anything for many years."
Marseille, which is closing in on Lille in the title race, needed a late penalty to beat Montpellier in the league last Sunday.
"These two matches come very close together, but Saturday will be a very different match," Deschamps said. "There are no points on offer but a trophy to be won."
Marseille's play this season has been far from spectacular, and critics have moaned about the lack of flair in Deschamps' team, unfairly comparing it to the star-studded team that won the European Cup.
But Marseille has won nine of 12 league matches since the league resumed in January after the winter break.
Defender Rod Fanni says Marseille's resurgence is far more important than plaudits.
"I listen to my mates who are playing for other teams, and they all tell me that we are really hard to play against," he said. "It's a bit easy to say it's all down to luck."
Montpellier is even less exciting going forward, managing in 31 league games just 27 goals - 10 of those for striker Olivier Giroud.
Montpellier's strength, this season and last, has been its resolute defending.
Bosnia defender Emir Spahic has at times been an inspirational leader, but his poor disciplinary record threatens to derail Montpellier's whole season. The club is in eighth place as it chases entry into the Europa League, which will happen automatically if it wins on Saturday.
Spahic has twice elbowed strikers in the face this season - Brest's Nolan Roux and Lens' Toifilou Maoulida - and his lengthy suspension rules him out of Saturday's final and several crucial league games after that.
The 30-year-old Spahic will be going to Stade de France, anyway.
"I want to support them all week and try and offer them a bit of my experience," Spahic said. "It's the role of the senior players to try and help the young players so that they bring the cup to Montpellier."
One player the young players can turn to for advice is veteran midfielder Romain Pitau. The 33-year-old Pitau won the French Cup with Sochaux in 2007, beating an odds-on favorite Marseille containing Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri.
"Marseille will be favorites, we will be the outsiders. In people's minds it will be the same thing," Pitau said. "You don't get to go to Stade de France every year. If it's my last chance, I absolutely must seize it."
Marseille striker Loic Remy also misses the match through suspension.
Because of the final, there will be eight league matches on Sunday, when Lille travels to Lorient.
With seven rounds remaining, Lille has a one-point lead over Marseille.
Fourth-place Paris Saint-Germain, which is seven points behind Lille, and fifth-place Rennes also have away games.
PSG is at Brest, and Rennes tries to snap a five-match winless streak in Monaco.
In Sunday's other matches, it is: Caen vs. Toulouse, Auxerre vs. Lens, Bordeaux vs. Saint-Etienne; Nancy vs. Arles-Avignon, and Valenciennes vs. Sochaux. Next Wednesday, Marseille hosts Nice, and Montpellier is at Lyon.