Europa Preview : Zulte Waregem v OGC Nice
It has been a mixed start to the season for Nice, as they knocked Ajax out of Champions League qualifying on away goals before losing both legs of the play-off to Napoli, around which they lost to not one but two newly promoted sides in Ligue 1, and then beat Monaco 4-0 at the weekend.
So, Lucien Favre and his men should be positive as they head into their Europa campaign, ahead of a trip to Rennes on Sunday. In attack, Mario Balotelli should be back in Favre’s good books after a brace against Monaco, and Alassane Plea is no longer suspended. In addition, 18-year-old Ignatius Ganago scored the fourth against ASM in his second substitute appearance for the club.
There are a couple of absences, as Koziello is still suspended after his red card in the first leg against Napoli, and Wesley Sneijder has ankle-knack. However everybody else is fit, returning hero Nampalys Mendy having had a small cameo in the Monaco game, and Jean Michael Seri getting back in the swing of things after that Barcelona unfortunateness, and being handed the captain’s armband.
Zulte Waregem secured their Europa berth by winning the Beker van Belgie, beating Oostende on penalties, and are sixth in the Jupiler Pro League after six games, most recently drawing the derby with Courtrai/Kortrijk 2-2. The squad features some familiar faces as the attack comprises Aaron Leya Iseka (Michy Batshuayi’s brother) on loan from Anderlecht, after not featuring much for OM last season – he is still mostly a sub but already has two goals. Further back ex-Guingamp midfielder Nill de Pauw has been used rather more, and also already has two goals. Their main goal threats so far are young Nigerian striker Peter Olayinka, who intriguingly wears 99 on his shirt, and the more traditionally numbered Onur Kaya at 10.
Nice are favourites to win this but their own website is pointing out their terrible away record in European competition – one win, five draws, eighteen defeats. The one win, against Red Bull Salzburg last season, was also their only clean sheet over those 24 games. Lazio (playing tonight vs Vitesse Arnhem) are clear favourites for group K so Nice must be looking for something from their trips north to achieve Favre’s stated aim of progression. The question is, which will win out, the record or the odds?
Zulte Waregem : Leali, Bostyn, De Nayer – De fauw, Baudry, Heylen, Derijck, Walsh, Hamalainen – De Mets, Kaya, De Pauw, Oldrup Jensen, Doumbia, De Sart, Kastanos, Coopman – Leya Iseka, Saponjic, Olayinka
OGC Nice : Cardinale, Benitez, Clémentia – Souquet, Marlon, Coly, Dante, Le Marchand, Sarr, Jallet – Tameze, Seri, Lees-Melou, Walter, Mendy, Lusamba – Saint-Maximin, Balotelli, Srarfi, Plea, Ganago