Preview : Red Bull Salzburg v OGC Nice – Europa League
Thursday evening’s early sitting features a clash between two teams unexpectedly in search of their first points in the Europa League this season. Both Austria’s double-holders from 2015/16 and Ligue 1’s current leaders have had a shaky start to European competition.
Salzburg’s campaign started some time ago, as they went into the second qualifying round of the Champions League, back in about February (actually 12 July, but…close. ed.). Having beaten Latvia’s Liepāja and Albania’s FK Partizani, they were knocked out in the play-offs by Dinamo Zagreb after extra time, to drop down to the Europa League. There, things didn’t look up as they lost their first game 1-0 at home to FK Krasnodar before a 3-1 defeat away at Schalke, featuring a fairly strange long-range back-pass own goal from CB Duje Caleta-Car who was for some reason out on the wing just inside his own half. They also aren’t having a terribly happy time of things domestically, sitting third in the Bundesliga, their latest result a 2-2 draw at low-flyers Wolfsberger AC, and are already nine points off leaders Sturm Graz after 11 games.
Nice may have a better explanation for a slow start in Europe as they seek to hold on to top spot in Ligue 1, where they are still unbeaten, but it’s tricky to explain losing 5-2 in Krasnodar in a match that was chaotically enjoyable for the neutral. The scoreline looks rather worse than the performance, given a late double from substitute Ari, but while Nice put some predictably nice moves together in midfield, the defence was vulnerable to the counter. Dante’s positioning throughout was interesting, and he was certainly closer to the ball on Mario Balotelli’s strike than for several of the goals from the home side. This followed a 1-0 home loss to Schalke (such things can happen) leaving the French team also pointless so far.
Nice, however, come into this match off the back of a pleasing (if slightly contentious, given Nabil Fekir’s red card) 2-0 win over Lyon, featuring goals from Paul Baysse and Jean-Michael Seri and a penalty miss from Mario Balotelli. He is not in the squad for this, suffering hamstring issues, but Lucien Favre has been switching things around regularly anyway, with Alassane Plea available to provide a focal point. The main offensive threat will probably come from midfield, with Younes Belhanda finding his range (Seri’s goal being a rebound after he hit the post against Lyon) and a variety of boisterous young talent – Wylan Cyprien and Vincent Koziello in particular – buzzing around as well.
Favre’s three-at-the-back and just-go-out-there-and-express-yourselves tactical approach will hopefully continue, but with both teams under a lot of pressure to get points on the board and Nice the away team, this could be a tight encounter. However expect to see a Nice first team (minus Mario) in this as they aren’t staring down the barrel of a big game next weekend (Metz away). Which team will have wings in this encounter? The odds are with Salzburg but Nice would be worth a punt.
Nice : Hassen, Cardinale, Benitez – Souquet, Baysse, Ricardo, Dalbert, Dante, Sarr – Belhanda, Seri, Lusamba, Eysseric, Walter, Bodmer, Cyprien, Koziello, Marcel – Plea, Bosetti, Donis.