With Mario Balotelli forced off the field early in the game, Valere Germain and Luiz Gustavo took on the scoring responsibilities as Marseille beat Nimes 2-1 in the French league on Saturday.
The former European champions ended their three-match winless run to leapfrog Saint-Etienne into fourth place. With six matches left to play, Marseille moved within five points of third-placed Lyon, which lost 2-1 at Nantes on Friday.
Marseille struggled to break the deadlock against its well-organized southern rival but went ahead in the 72nd minute from a set piece when Germain scored from Dimitri Payet’s corner with a powerful header at the near post.
Gustavo made it 2-0 in the next minute with a clever curled shot from outside the area that lobbed Nimes goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni.
Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara ensured some suspense with a handball in the box that gave Nimes a penalty with eight minutes left. Teji Savanier converted the penalty with a low shot under Steve Mandanda.
Hosts Marseille took a blow early on when Balotelli, who has scored seven league goals in 11 games since joining from Nice, suffered a thigh injury and was forced to leave the pitch in the 32nd.
“He stopped playing because he was not at 100%,” Marseille coach Rudi Garcia said. “He wanted to continue, but it did not make sense to play with a weakened player.”
Marseille pressed hard after the interval and found the net twice but both goals were ruled out by VAR for offside before Germain finally ended the deadlock.
With a 20-point lead at the top, runaway leader Paris Saint-Germain has another chance to seal a sixth title in seven years when it travels to second-placed Lille on Sunday night.