Although Marseille’s motto of “Straight to Goal” is an ode to attacking soccer, there has always been a rich tradition of great defenders at the nine-time French champions.
After all, it was a defender — Basile Boli — who scored the only goal in the 1993 Champions League final against AC Milan to give Marseille its sole European title. And the likes of Carlos Mozer, Laurent Blanc, Eric Di Meco and Gabriel Heinze have all contributed to writing brilliant chapters of the club’s history.
Luan Peres, a Brazilian center back who recently arrived at the club from Santos on a four-year deal, might well be part of that breed of players.
For Peres, settling in at Marseille was hardly restful, though. Both on and off the field.
After scoring an own-goal against Montpellier in his team’s season opener, the 27-year-old Peres was among the players attacked by Nice supporters who invaded the field during a league game that was abandoned because of fan violence. Peres’ house in Marseille was also burgled last month.
“It was difficult, particularly the burglary,” Peres said. “It affected both myself and my wife. As for the Nice match, it was the first time it happened to me in my whole career. Everyone is going through difficult moments, but Marseille has always been supportive and now it’s over.”
A tall and fast player, Peres has recovered from those eventful first weeks to establish himself as a crucial element of coach Jorge Sampaoli’s backline, alongside Leonardo Balerdi and William Saliba.
Peres excels in duels, tackles well, and his good reading of the game makes him one of the most efficient league players at ball interception. He also contributes to offensive moves with his accurate passing and appetite for progressing upfield with the ball at his feet.
Peres’ versatility is a precious asset for Sampaoli, who had briefly supervised him in Santos and pushed for his recruitment despite a disappointing stint at Club Brugge in his previous experience in Europe.
The left-footed defender, who can also play at left back, is coping well with Sampaoli’s changes of systems as the Argentine tactician likes to switch formations during games.
“Sampaoli’s style is similar to the one I knew in Brazil. He always liked to play with three central players or four and I was going left back,” Peres said. “He hasn’t changed much, but he has improved his tactics, he has adapted to the European game.”
With 13 points from five games, Marseille got off to its best start in almost a decade in the French league. Ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Angers, the southern side is in second place, five points behind Paris Saint-Germain with a game in hand.
Sampaoli, who arrived at the club in March, has kept the same aggressive and attack-minded style of play, but his defense looks way more solid this season. Only Nice has conceded fewer goals so far, and Marseille will be looking for a third consecutive clean sheet at Angers.
“Of course it’s possible,” Peres said when asked if Marseille could upset PSG and win the title. “PSG has a great team, but they are not invincible. We also have a great team. If we continue to play well and stay focused during all our matches, we can remain in contention with them. And we will have two games against PSG when we’ll have to seize the moment.”
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