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Alvaro Gonzalez ready for PSG challenge

The Spanish defender was one of the cornerstones of OM's runners-up finish in the truncated 2019-20 season that earned the 1993 European champions a return to the UEFA Champions League for the first time in six years.

COVID-19 infections in the squad mean OM have played just once this season — the thrilling 3-2 win in Brest — and so face their arch-rivals at the Parc des Princes with very little competitive football in their legs, not that Gonzalez is worried.

"They are very good. But if you like your job, you like playing against the best players in the world, " he said. "In Spain, I had nine seasons of playing against Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Neymar when he was at Barcelona. I played some beautiful derbies with Espanyol against Barcelona. They were also fantastic to experience. Here, against Paris, you have Mbappé, Icardi, Di Maria…I played against Di Maria when he was at Real Madrid. These are fantastic challenges."

With Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappé all among a clutch of first-team regulars testing positive for COVID-19 themselves, PSG's plans for the game have been thrown into doubt. Mbappé will miss the Round 3 encounter as he self-isolates while the other two could return having missed the Ligue 1 Uber Eats champions' defeat at RC Lens in their season-opener on Thursday.

Regardless of who he comes up against, Gonzalez will be ready after quickly settling into life in Ligue 1 last season while on loan from Villarreal. Unsurprisingly, Marseille made that switch a permanent one this summer.

'We can win Champions League matches'

"I think it is easier to adapt to a new country and a new league when you are 30 rather than when you’re 20. My nine seasons in La Liga prepared me well for joining a club like Olympique de Marseille. This is the biggest club I have played for in my career. We managed to fulfil our objectives last season, and now we’re going to get the chance to play in the Champions League, and we’ll have to give everything we’ve got, " he explained.

"It’s exciting because this will be the first time I’ve played in the Champions League. I really hope that it goes well for us. It’s a beautiful challenge, a dream that you want to realise when you play for a professional club. The biggest goal is to play in the Champions League, and we will do that this year. So I have already achieved an objective, because for me playing in the Champions League is the objective every player must set himself.

"With the team we have, and with the support we have in this city, we have to be aiming to finish in the top two and to get past the group stage. These days, the teams are all of a similar standard. If you take out Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester City – all of whom are very strong and would be difficult to beat – Marseille are among the teams who can fight for points, win matches, and look to qualify for the knockout rounds."

The optimistic mood on the Mediterranean coast would certainly have been dampened had coach Andre Villas-Boas left the club over the summer.

The former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur boss was the mastermind behind OM's second-placed finish last season — his first in France — but the departure of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta made him consider his own future at the Stade Vélodrome.

"It was very important for me that he stayed, because the coach, and Andoni Zubizarreta – who left this summer – played a key part in me joining Marseille. He called me personally to ask me to come. I was at Villarreal, but after my chat with Andre Villas-Boas I decided to change clubs.

"Despite the difficulties we’ve had this summer – not knowing if the coach was going to stay or go – we’ve tried everything to keep this group together. We reached our objectives last season all together. It would be fantastic to be able to keep that going this season in the Champions League, having qualified for that competition all together with the coach and the players, " said Gonzalez, who admitted the squad had encouraged AVB to continue his work with them.

"We tried to convince him to stay. He’s somebody who listens and he accepts the opinions of others. The results we got last season were down to the whole group, and we felt the coach had been a central figure in us qualifying for the Champions League. So we wanted to do everything we could to make him stay. And we were successful. The coach listened to us, understood us, and that’s why we are all still together today."

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