MARSEILLE, France — A change of coach has not yielded instant dividends for Marseille.
Lacking passion and grit, the team now coached by Andre Villas-Boas made a disappointing start to the French league by losing 2-0 at home to Reims on Saturday.
Striker Boulaye Dia scored the opening goal and also delivered an assist as Reims claimed its first win at the Velodrome Stadium for more than five years.
On a hot afternoon in the southern city, Villas-Boas got his first taste of French football and saw how much work needs to be done to bring his team back among the elite, as the hosts looked bereft of attacking inspiration and were vulnerable to counterattacks.
Villas-Boas replaced Rudi Garcia after Marseille failed to qualify for the Europa League and his mission is to bring the kings of Europe from 1993 back into the Champions League.
Due to Financial Fair Play restrictions, the club has been quiet in the transfer market and Villas-Boas fielded a familiar side although striker Dario Benedetto, who has joined from Boca Juniors, came off the bench in the second half.
Home keeper Steve Mandanda kept his side afloat in the first half with two good saves before nine-time champion Marseille went close to taking the lead against the run of the play when Kevin Strootman volleyed against the bar in the 57th minute.
But Mandanda could not stop Dia’s effort in the 58th following Tristan Dingome’s assist. Dia then beat the offside trap and turned provider in the 90th minute with a fine pass to Korean forward Suk Hyun-jun, who pounced to score.
"It’s a big disappointment given what we hoped for and what we had shown in our (pre-season) matches," Mandanda said. "Trying to find excuses is not the best solution. They were better than us, more efficient and more solid. There is a long way to go to perform in this league."
SAINT-ETIENNE WINS AWAY
Unlike its bitter rival, 10-time champion Saint-Etienne was immediately in the swing of things and won 2-1 at Dijon.
Saint-Etienne built a two-goal lead inside 10 minutes thanks to Romain Hamouma and Jean-Eudes Aholou before Julio Tavares pulled one back with a penalty in the 34th.
Playing without its injured new signing Teji Savanier, the best assist-provider last season during his time with Nimes, Montpellier was upset 1-0 at home by 10-man Rennes after Andy Delort missed a penalty.
Angers defeated Bordeaux 3-1, promoted Brest drew 1-1 with Toulouse and former Brazil defender Dante headed the winner in stoppage time as Nice beat Amiens 2-1.
Paris Saint-Germain starts the defence of its title against Nimes on Sunday at the Parc des Princes.