Europa Preview : Lyon, Marseille and Nice all still second
The final round of the Europa league sees only one game that will decide if a French team goes through, as Marseille host Salzburg in Group I. Elsewhere as predicted it’s a straight shoot-out between Atalanta and Lyon for top spot in Group E, as they are level on 11 points with the Italian team ahead on goal difference, and Nice travel to Arnhem with second place in Group K in the bag but no chance of catching Lazio.
All these teams are currently bang in the middle of a festive fixture pile-up having played two games a week since the international break, which will continue until Ligue 1 downs tools for Christmas, meaning they will play ten games in 31 days, including their first appearances in the Coupe de la Ligue – all away, and against Ligue 1 opposition. That pressure will mean that cagey man-management and the occasional surprising result are par for the course, and this could mean less than stellar performances in the final group game for those for whom progress is assured.
Atalanta – Olympique Lyonnais
These teams drew 1-1 in Lyon in the second group game, and most recently both had big wins as Lyon put four past Apollon with no response, and Atalanta pummelled Everton 5-1 at Goodison Park.
With Atalanta ahead on goal difference, comfortably mid-table in Serie A, and facing relegation candidates Genoa on Sunday, they will hopefully put on a good show to finish an impressive Europa group campaign on a home high.
After a surprising home defeat to newly Bielsaless Lille in game 15, OL got back on track, winning 2-1 away at Caen at the weekend, but it was a nervy finish (also ooh, Santini). They travel to Amiens next round, which will not be an easy proposition, the promoted side on an eight-game unbeaten run before their defeat at Rennes at the weekend. As the jockeying for a podium finish continues, and given the fixture pile-up mentioned above, this will be a tricky call for Bruno Genesio – go for the win to try to avoid a C1 drop-out in the knock-out stage, or accept the status quo and look forward to Sunday?
Vitesse Arnhem – OGC Nice
A bit of a dead rubber in the Netherlands as Nice travel to Vitesse, whom they beat 3-0 at home, now sitting on nine points, safely ahead of Zulte Waregem on four and unapproachably behind Lazio on 13.
With Nice having a fair bit of trouble in the league, and facing doughty but potentially doable opposition in Nantes at the weekend, it would not be a surprise if there is a slight B-team vibe for this. They had a cheering but not entirely surprising 3-1 win over Metz on Saturday, with goals from Alassane Plea, Mario Balotelli and Allan Saint-Maximin, which should also have done the strike-force’s confidence some good. With Wesley Sneijder out to the end of the year, and Balotelli facing a suspension if he gets booked, space will be freed up for some of the younger players who have seen more Europa than league action to whizz around a bit, such as Vincent Koziello, Remi Walter, Bassem Srarfi, and maybe another opportunity for Ignatius Ganago to have another run-out in attack. Most excitingly, Wylan Cyprien is back in the first team squad after his long-term injury.
Vitesse only have 2 points so far so will be hoping to finish a dispiriting campaign with a win. Seventh in Eredivisie after losing to Feyenoord away at the weekend, and facing lowly Sparta on Sunday, they can probably afford to go for it; the question then will be if Lucien Favre plays a strong side, seeking to maintain the momentum that Nice have finally (drubbing by Lyon aside) started to build up.
Olympique Marseille – RB Salzburg
OM lost 1-0 away at Salzburg in game 2, and needed a 93rd minute own goal from Konyaspor to take a point in their last game. This leaves them in the tricky situation of needing a win to be absolutely sure of progress, as they have seven points and Konyaspor lurk menacingly on five.
The Turkish side will be travelling to Vitoria, who also aren’t completely out of it, as they have four points from their previous two home games, drawing with Salzburg and beating Marseille 1-0. They are four behind OM in the goal difference stakes, and don’t tend to score a lot, but with not much going on in the Liga NOS, should be taking this seriously – while Konyaspor will be in something of a quandary having dropped into the relegation zone after a 3-0 home defeat to Bursaspor.
So, nobody is sure of their position except Salzburg, who can’t be caught on 11 points, which OM might be banking on to get them through. They had a tough time at the weekend, drawing 1-1 in Montpellier and only securing that point through some questionable refereeing. Basically, this is the one group where, if not anything, at least something, could happen.