Montpellier HSC v OGC Nice : Week 30 Ligue 1 Preview
Eight points and eleven places separate these two teams, but recent form has Montpellier in better shape as the Nice goal-wave abates, and this is quite a tricky one to call.
Their seasons could not have started more differently: while Montpellier spent the first ten games accumulating just five points and six goals, and getting mired in the relegation zone, Nice were fifth with 17 points and a massive 25 goals scored. Then came a rally from la Paillade in the run-up to Christmas, with 17 points and 16 scored, while Nice slowed up, although they beat MHSC 1-0 in the final game of 2015 with a goal from Olivier Boscagli.
This was the start of a four-game losing streak for Montpellier, as Pascal Baills and Bruno Martini, the original replacements for Rolland Courbis, who quit over Christmas, were unable to maintain the pressure, and after their terrible start had left them so much ground to make up, they were back in the relegation zone. The recovery since Frederic Hantz’s arrival may not have them safe, but they are looking much sturdier and are unbeaten in five, most recently putting in an impressive defensive display to hold PSG B to a goalless draw at the Parc des Princes.
In that match, stand-in goalkeeper Laurent Pionnier was voted man of the match by readers of L’Equipe’s MBM with a massive 67% of the nearly 13,000 votes, and was awarded 8/10 in their equipe type. Injuries have, as ever, played their part in Montpellier’s season – the big hope was that Morgan Sanson could come back from seven months out with an ACL injury to sort things out in midfield, but after being eased back into the team in the run-up to Christmas, he had a setback in training and has not played in 2016 apart from the cup game against Epernay. The rather surprising returning hero has been Kevin Berigaud, who missed three months with a knee injury but is now starting again, and has three goals in the last five games.
For Nice, a recent wobble has them with five points from the past five games, coinciding with a brief absence through injury for Hatem Ben Arfa, their top scorer on eleven in the league. He received a rapturous reception when he made his return, subbed on at the hour mark against Troyes in the last game, to cause his usual brand of trouble before Mahamane Traore got the winner with 15 minutes to go. If he is back fit, and Valere Germain (nine) is firing, Nice are a difficult attack to deal with: even if the goals have tailed off from that early flurry, they still have 13 other players who have scored for them this season.
Montpellier have dragged their scoring form upwards with a mixture of crosses and corners, their top scorer Casimir Ninga with six, followed by the evergreen Souleymane Camara on five, and Moustapha Yatabare and polyvalent fan favourite Bryan Dabo on four.
Strangely – particularly for Nice – neither team shoots that much, compared to the rest of the table, but both have decent conversion rates when they do; the conception of OGCN as a free-wheeling attacking team is maybe more down to their (read, Ben Arfa’s) frequent mazy runs into the final third, twisting up defenders and looking threatening without necessarily getting a shot off. The accuracy of their passing and shooting, however, is second only to PSG, so they force their opponents to concentrate hard; Pionnier and his back-line will need to be alert from the beginning.
A concern for Montpellier was that captain Vitorino Hilton limped off in the PSG match, but he is reportedly only ‘bruised’; he, and Sanson, are both included in the group, although the latter is unlikely to start. For Nice, there are some absences as captain Mathieu Bodmer is out, as are John Correia, Paulin Puel and Mickaël Le Bihan; Maxime Le Marchand is back after missing the game against Troyes.
Prediction: Montpellier 2-1 Nice
MHSC : Pionnier, Ligali – Deplagne, Rémy, Bensebaini, Hilton, Congré, Roussillon – Skhiri, Saihi, Dabo, Martin, Sanson, Boudebouz – Bérigaud, Ninga, Camara, Yatabaré
Nice : Cardinale, Hassen – Baysse, Genevois, Le Marchand, Pied, Ricardo – Hult, Koziello, N. Mendy, Seri, Traoré, Wallyson, Walter – Ben Arfa, Germain, A. Mendy, Plea