UEFA.com works better on other browsers
For the best possible experience, we recommend using Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

Dos Santos' Marseille mission

UEFA Cup success would sweeten a troubled season for Olympique de Marseille's Manuel Dos Santos.

By Matthew Spiro

Olympique de Marseille defender Manuel Dos Santos is hoping to put a troublesome season behind him when he lines up against Newcastle United FC in the UEFA Cup semi-final second leg on Thursday.

Grim season
Dos Santos broke his shinbone at the tail end of last season but after a summer of rehabilitation was hopeful of returning early in the current campaign. However, a series of setbacks resulted in an extended lay-off and left the 30-year-old wondering if he would ever play at the top level again.

Blessed relief
"I was starting to ask myself some serious questions," Dos Santos told uefa.com ahead of the match at the Stade Vélodrome. "It was a difficult and frustrating period because every time I was close to coming back there was a complication. It's just such a relief to be playing again."

No fun
When Dos Santos finally made his comeback - against FC Nantes Atlantique on 22 February - Marseille's season, that had promised so much at the start, looked set to fizzle out. Eliminated from the UEFA Champions League in the group stage, any hopes of mounting a title challenge had long since faded. "It's hard to say what went wrong," Dos Santos mused. "What is sure is that it wasn't much fun watching from the sidelines. At least now I can do something to help my team-mates."

Dynamic displays
That is exactly what he has been doing. The left wing-back's dynamic displays have helped Marseille breathe new life into their season, with some outstanding results in the UEFA Cup in particular. He is reluctant to accept praise for the turnaround, though, instead pointing to the arrival of José Anigo as first-team coach in January as the key.

Acting naturally
"José's approach is very different to that of the previous manager Alain Perrin," Dos Santos said of the former youth-team boss. "He has tried to get us more relaxed, to behave more naturally in training and to be happy when we're in each other's company. We feel more liberated now and that shows in our performances."

Newcastle challenge
Marseille's new-found spirit was certainly evident in the victories over Liverpool FC and FC Internazionale, but Dos Santos knows that it will take another exceptional team performance to see off Newcastle after a goalless first leg.

'Dangerous scoreline'
"We are taking nothing for granted because we know that 0-0 is a dangerous scoreline," he said. "We have to find a balance between attack and defence and that's not always easy at the Vélodrome because the fans urge us forward all the time. But we're getting used to that after Liverpool and Inter and we know we're capable of playing a tactically disciplined match."

Physical assault
Dos Santos is especially wary of the aerial threat posed by the English team, saying: "Newcastle present a different challenge to Liverpool because they are more direct and play lots of long balls to [Alan] Shearer and [Shola] Ameobi. They're a physical side and with Shearer in the team they're always going to be dangerous. He's still a world-class player and his goalscoring record this season proves that."

'A special night'
Marseille have a potential match-winner of their own in the newly crowned French Footballer of the Year, Didier Drogba, and Dos Santos warned: "We know that if we keep a clean sheet we've got a great chance because Didier is always likely to score. Whatever happens it's going to be a special night." After the year Dos Santos has had, he is likely to savour the occasion more than most.