Champions League is being expanded, but Italy and Germany will benefit over England next season

Champions League is being expanded, but Italy and Germany will benefit over England next season
Champions League is being expanded, but Italy and Germany will benefit over England next season

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - PARIS: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is enjoying a stunning late-career revival at Marseille, whose unlikely run to the semifinals of the Europa League has been made possible largely thanks to the goals of the former Arsenal striker.

There was plenty of skepticism when Marseille signed the 34-year-old on a three-year deal after a poor last campaign at Chelsea.

The Gabon international had struggled to settle at Stamford Bridge at a turbulent time for the London club, and scored just one goal in only five starts in the Premier League.

However, the return to the country of his birth after a decade abroad has worked a treat, even in a Marseille side who have lurched through numerous crises over the course of the season.

Aubameyang has rediscovered the prolific form of his heady days at Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal, netting 27 goals in 46 games in all competitions.

His goals have not been enough to propel Marseille into the upper reaches of the Ligue 1 table, given that they currently sit seventh with only three games left.

That means there is a danger they won’t qualify for Europe at all next season.

Aubameyang and Marseille are on their third coach of the campaign, with Spaniard Marcelino Garcia Toral quitting in September after only seven games at the helm.

His decision to walk came after a fiery meeting between club management and unhappy supporters groups.

Marcelino was replaced with former Italy star Gennaro Gattuso, but he didn’t fare much better, lasting five months before being dismissed in February.

The current man in charge is Jean-Louis Gasset, the veteran 70-year-old who was available after leaving the Ivory Coast job during the Africa Cup of Nations.

Gasset has not been able to make Marseille more consistent domestically, but he has led them to victories in the Europa League against Shakhtar Donetsk, Villarreal — two former winners of the competition — and Benfica.

That run, including beating former European Cup winners Benfica on penalties in the quarterfinals, has led OM to a last-four showdown with Atalanta.

“We dream of evenings like these. This is a competition that suits us,” Gasset said after beating Benfica.

“We have got to the semifinals of a European competition having beaten three clubs who have won (European) trophies.

“It is an epic tale. A season can only be judged at the end, but we want to go as far as possible.”

That would mean getting to the final in Dublin on May 22 against either Roma or German champions Bayer Leverkusen.

Marseille, who lost the Europa League final in 2018 and the UEFA Cup finals of 1999 and 2004, would not be favorites in the final and are also probably the underdogs against Atalanta, conquerors of Liverpool in the last round.

But Aubameyang could be the man to make the difference.

After all, the forward who was on the books at AC Milan as a youth and who made his name at Saint-Etienne, is the all-time top scorer in the Europa League.

He has 34 goals in the competition, a tally that leaves him four ahead of Radamel Falcao, the next best marksman.

“It’s my competition,” he remarked with a smile when speaking to UEFA after starring in the 4-0 win over Villarreal in the last-16 first leg.

Eight of those goals came at Dortmund, while he got 14 for Arsenal, with whom he played in their defeat by Chelsea in the 2019 final in Baku.

He has 10 in 11 games in the competition this season for Marseille, including five in two games against Ajax.

“He is a champion and he has almost unique characteristics. He is one of the best strikers of the last 15 years,” Marseille president Pablo Longoria told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“He has scored lots of goals and done so everywhere he has been. He is the best goal-scorer in the Europa League.

“We hope he will make his mark against Atalanta and stay with us until the end of his career.”

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