Lyon will return to Marseille amid heightened security measures Wednesday to play a game that was postponed after the team's bus was attacked by fans throwing rocks in October.
The rescheduled match comes just four days after the death of a fan ahead of a French league game that marked a new low in a season marred by violence.
The match between Marseille and Lyon was initially scheduled on Oct. 29 but was postponed after fans threw rocks and other projectiles at the Lyon bus and then-coach Fabio Grosso needed stitches in his forehead after being hit by broken glass.
Lyon fans have not been allowed to travel to the rescheduled game, which takes place in the wake of the incident in the western city of Nantes, where a fan was killed during a fight close to the stadium before a game between Nantes and Nice.
The match in Marseille will be under close scrutiny, with local authorities under pressure to deliver an effective security plan.
On Monday, French sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera called for “a global and extraordinarily determined response” to an upsurge of violence in French soccer that culminated with the fan's death.
“It’s just not possible that police forces are so overstretched, that private property is destroyed, that buses are stoned and people injured,” Oudea-Castera said. “And now, a death. That’s enough.”
Back in October in Marseille, the Lyon team bus was hit on the way to Stade Velodrome, shattering some windows. Grosso was injured by falling shards of glass and needed medical treatment with his face bleeding heavily. Lyon assistant coach Raffaele Longo was also injured.
Supporters were also targeted, five police officers were injured, and nine people placed in custody. Grosso suffered a deep cut above his left eye that required stitches and a large bandage wrapped around his head.
Following a string of disappointing results, Grosso was fired last week and replaced by interim coach Pierre Sage.
“We’re waiting for transport to be secured so that the players can tackle the match in the best possible way,” Sage said.
According to local Lyon newspaper Le Progres, players and staff will leave for Marseille on Wednesday morning and will stay in a hotel that has been booked in consultation with local Marseille authorities, further away from the Stade Velodrome than the one picked by Lyon in October.
Once in Marseille, the team won’t be using its usual bus bearing the club’s colors. Lyon will instead use an unmarked bus belonging to a local transport company, fitted with reinforced windows. The team will then be heavily escorted to the stadium.
Because the October incidents took place outside the Stade Velodrome, Marseille has escaped disciplinary sanctions from the French league.
“The situation is a bit delicate," said Lyon right-back Clinton Mata. “We didn’t think we’d have to play this match again as if nothing had happened. It’s a strange feeling, but we’re professional players. After what happened, we’re a bit worried.”
In addition to the attack on the bus, racist incidents also took place before the match between Marseille and Lyon. As fans from both teams remained in the stadium and exchanged insults as they waited for the game to kick off, some fans from Lyon were filmed making Nazi gestures and mimicking monkeys.
Both Marseille and Lyon, two traditionally successful French clubs, have failed to meet expectations this season. Marseille sits ninth in the standings, 16 points behind league leader Paris Saint-Germain. The situation is even worse for Lyon, which is bottom of the league with just one win in 13 matches.