Europa Preview : Nice, Marseille and Lyon all in second place
The group stages of the European competitions are getting to the interesting bit, so while Monaco have fairly fundamentally screwed up their Champions League campaign while PSG are cheerfully laying waste to all before them so far, the Europa League teams are all sitting in second place in their groups after four games.
Group K – OGC Nice v Zulte Waregem
Nice are second on six points to understandable group-topper Lazio who have four wins out of four, with Zulte on four points and challenge to nominative determinism Vitesse on one.
Nice had a crashing 5-1 win away in Belgium in their first group game, with a double from Alassane Plea followed by goals from Dante, Allan Saint-Maximin, and Mario Balotelli. Oh, the memories. Such freewheeling expressionism may be in short supply given their current bafflingly bad league form and after the slight wet blanket of losing both games to Lazio, the highest-ranked team in the group.
The second, away, game will be particularly gutting – a 1-0 loss due to a Maxime Le Marchand own goal in injury time, just when it looked like they might be hanging on for a draw in a game which apparently saw no shots on target. Lazio are fifth in Serie A after losing ‘away’ to AS Roma at the weekend, allowing Roma to get ahead of them in the table, but both have a game in hand after a series of weather-based postponements.
Anyway – Nice had another frustrating result at the weekend. Having led away at Caen since the 40th minute thanks to Pierre Lees-Melou, they conceded an injury time equaliser. Given the closeness of most of the Ligue 1 table, the win would have put them up to ninth – however they are now seventeenth, and playing Lyon at the weekend, so no pressure there then.
Nice will probably be hoping that ZW were as poor as they were first time round, so they can concentrate on not getting embarrassed at home on Sunday. However, Balotelli is back after being suspended against Caen, a win here would confirm their progression into the knock-out stage, and provide some much-needed cheer for the fans. In other football tips for today Lazio are heavy favourites to win at home against Vitesse, which would confirm their relative positions in the group.
Group I – Konyaspor v Olympique Marseille
OM are second to FC Salzburg who have eight points while the French team have six, with their opponents Konyaspor and Vitoria level on four.
Group I has been a fairly topsy-turvy affair, as evidenced by the points standings. In their first game, OM beat Konyaspor at the Velodrome with a header from Adil Rami. Most recently they lost away to Vitoria after a late goal from Paolo Hurtada for the hosts and a later red card for Boubacar Kamara for the visitors…after an extremely early red card for Patrice Evra, after that pre-match assault on the travelling support and subsequent ‘amicable’ severing of ties between panda-bothering left-back and club.
In defence, Kamara is suspended, and 19-year-old leftback Christopher Rocchia gets a call-up to the squad. Further forward, apart from Gregory Sertic (out until the end of the year) there are no absences.
So – Rudi Garcia may just be hoping that everyone stays on the pitch and doesn’t hit anybody. They have a relatively relaxed-looking tie against Guingamp on Sunday so can focus on this game, after a gutsy performance at the weekend to win a point at Bordeaux with Morgan Sanson equalising with the last kick of the game. Marseille are the stronger team, and Konyaspor are not in a great place right now, sitting 15th in the Superlig, but this could still be the archetypal difficult away trip as OM look for the win that would ensure progression if Salzburg win at home to Vitoria, which betting advice suggests is likely.
Group E – Olympique Lyonnais v Apollon
OL are second only on goal difference to Atalanta, with both on eight points, Apollon doughty on three and Everton largely terrible on one (1).
OL’s campaign started a little awkwardly away in Cyprus, when they were bang in the middle of their ‘concede a late goal’ thing, and … conceded a late goal, to draw 1-1. Since then, they have also drawn to Atalanta, and beaten Everton home and away, starting with a 2-1 win at Goodison where now ex-Toffees manager Ronald Koeman described the second half as “six substitutions, two goals and a fight“, the less-successful sequel to Four Weddings and a Funeral. Conversely Bruno Genesio described it as “typically English” so I think we can all feel very proud of that.
A sweet run of six wins in all competitions was brought to an end on Sunday with a 0-0 draw at home to Montpellier, but the fact remains that OL have only lost one match this season – and that was away at PSG. The absence of Fekir as an organising force, as well as a focal point, was felt at the weekend as he sat out his suspension for his shirt-based goal celebration against Saint-Etienne. In attack, his return could be a deciding factor here, along with Mariano Diaz’s continuing single-minded determination to score, and Memphis Depay’s ongoing commitment to rinse any rightback who wanders into his orbit.
Genesio has pretty much everyone available, although has chosen to rest Jordan Ferri, Clement Grenier and Maxwel Cornet; this may be a chance to see more from promising young attackers Amine Gouiri and Myziane Maolida, if things are going well into the second half. OL are of course heavy favourites here, and only need a point to ensure qualification for the knock-out rounds; then winning the group would be a straight fight with Atalanta in the last group game. Focus, Fekir, and not faffing around at the back should mean a clear OL win in this game.