Preview : OGC Nice v Red Bull Salzburg – Europa League


Group I is shaping up as if Nice have had bigger things on their minds recently. Schalke are top with 9 and welcome FK Krasnodar (6); Nice (3) welcome point-less Salzburg whom they beat 1-0 in Austria through an early strike from Alassane Plea.

Lucien Favre is, of course, insisting that this is their only focus – before what looks a very doable away trip to Caen on Sunday. While a win here should put them level on points with Krasnodar, the next round will probably undo that, as Nice travel to Schalke while the Russian side welcome Salzburg. That would then set up a final round with Nice needing to beat FK at home to draw level – then head-to-head would kick in, so Nice would have to win by more than three. We think. We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Favre has identified the pressing game of the Red Bull family of clubs as an element ‘compliqué‘; however there may have been a slight dig in his frequent mentions of RB Leipzig at the pre-match presser, as they are currently second in the (German) Bundesliga while Salzburg are third in the Austrian iteration, behind Sturm Graz and the wonderfully-named Cashpoint SCR Altach. Meanwhile their manager Oscar Garcia (ex-Brighton! – Brighton-supporting Ed) seems to be managing expectations pre-match, talking about using this as a learning opportunity, and saying ominously “we know very well how difficult this will be”.

« notre jeu, c’est attaquer, vouloir le ballon et bien défendre collectivement

» Lucien Favre

Now, normally if you were binning off the Europa League to focus on the league, you’d play the kids; this isn’t really an option for Favre as his team is, well, the kids. They have the youngest overall squad in Ligue 1 (23.7) and the group to face Salzburg is younger still (23.5). Unless they sent the U7s out there to do battle, he wouldn’t massively change the age profile of OGCN whatever he did.

But oh what a group it is! Even in the 5-2 loss away at Krasnodar they looked good. Focus in the UK may be on Mario Balotelli, with French viewers also well aware of what Younes Belhanda can do, but the presence of Plea, Jean Michaël Seri, Vincent Koziello and Wylan Cyprien, is a joy to behold. However – the (relatively) grizzled head of Paul Baysse will this time not be pairing with Malang Sarr (he’s seventeen) in central defence to control the occasional rush of blood from Dante; the named defenders suggest that Nice may switch to a back four for this, unless someone (Mathieu Bodmer?) gets redeployed.

Nice may not be unbeaten in Europe but they are still a team you want to hug. It seems pleasingly inevitable that they will go out there and play some beautiful football, whoever gets the starting nod and however they set up. Hopefully this will be enough to win it – whether that means a hammering or a more restrained scoreline will be the question. Either way, it looks the pick of the late sitting for the neutral.

Squad : Cardinale, Benitez – Souquet, Ricardo, Boscagli, Dalbert, Dante, Sarr – Belhanda, Seri, Eysseric, Walter, Bodmer, Cyprien, Koziello – Balotelli, Plea, Donis.

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