After finishing 17 games in the current Ligue 1 campaign, OGC Nice sits first in the table with 40 points – 1 ahead of Monaco and 4 ahead of the defending champions PSG. It has been more than fifty years since the side were crowned champions. With nearly half of the season been played already, OGC Nice has proven that they are a team who will make the football world speak telling stories about them at the end of the season. Having finished in 4th place last season under Claude Puel, after 36 years they earned the opportunity to play in a European competition, by qualifying to the Europa League. Last season they managed to score 58 goals and conceded 41 in which they conceded only 16 goals at home. Hatem Ben Arfa was their outstanding player last season as he scored 17 goals and made 6 assists in Ligue 1.
Much praise should be towards the transfer activities of OGC Nice. They have been brilliant in their business in the past two seasons and this summer was no different. Nice’s squad cost a total of €40 million to assemble, a modest amount when considering that PSG and Monaco have spent a staggering €600 to €700 million combined. They lost regular starters such as Ben Arfa, Germain, Mendy and Pied. However, it can be stated that Nice actually improved their squad this summer when comparing last season’s team to present. Dante, signed from Wolfsburg, has added experience and leadership to Nice’s backline and has turned what was once a problem for Nice into one of its strength. Undoubtedly however, Nice’s best signings of the season have been Mario Balotelli, Younes Belhanda and Wylan Cyprien. Balotelli and Belhanda were signed as like for like replacements for Germain and Ben Arfa and they have been hugely successful so far this season. Belhanda has helped fill the creative void left by Ben Arfa while Balotelli has effortlessly replaced Germain’s goalscoring ability. Wylan Cyprien, who was signed for just €5m from Lens, has probably been Nice’s player of the season alongside Balotelli and Cardinale, with his performance against Monaco proving a masterclass in midfield play. At just 21, Cyprien has already proven to be a player capable of making an impact on the first team and considering his enormous potential will give Nice a very prized asset in the future.
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Change in management
In the summer, the former Gladbach manager, Lucien Favre was appointed as the replacement for Claude Puel. It was considered a coup for a club of Nice’s size and this has proven to be true. He has transformed Nice from a possession based side into a lethal counter attacking team capable of killing teams on the break. Initially he started the season by playing Nice in a 4-3-3. But he realised that this formation was not suited to Nice’s players. The signing of Dante allowed Favre to switch to a 3-5-2/ 5-3-1-1 which has been much more effective. Another thing Favre has changed is Nice’s defence. Despite their brilliant attacking play last season Nice were generally defensively fragile. Favre has changed this and turned Nice into a team capable of absorbing large amounts of pressure without switching off.
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Trust in youth
Three of the most important players for Nice this season have come from the youth academy. They are Vincent Koziello, Yoan Cardinale and Malang Sarr. Vincent Koziello has continued his form from last season in which he was quietly one of the best midfielders in Ligue 1. Koziello’s partnership with Wylan Cyprien and Jean Michel Seri has proved very vital for the Les Aiglons. Yoan Cardinale is proving to be one of the best goal keepers in Ligue 1. His performance against Monaco showed maturity beyond his years as he at times single handedly kept Monaco from finding the back of the net. Malang Sarr at a very young age of seventeen is living his dream. He has played every one of Nice’s games this season and scored his first professional goal on his debut. He has become one of Nice’s starting centre backs not because of an injury crisis or suspensions but because of his talent.
The Balotelli Effect
After failing to establish himself at Milan and Liverpool, OGC Nice took a risk in signing Super Mario. But to everyone’s surprise, the gamble has paid off. Nice had reasons to be concerned after the loss of Valere Germain which left them with just Alassane Plea as their only realistic striking option this season. Additionally, Plea has contributed with 10 goals and 1 assist so far in this season. However, the signing of Balotelli and his initial goalscoring form has alleviated these worries and given Nice a genuine chance of challenging for Champions league football. Having scored 6 goals so far in just 7 games, the striker has been showing renaissance when playing for the French side and appears to be genuinely enjoying his football at the moment, which has given Nice fans hope that Balotelli has finally matured. If he can continue to show that he has finally turned a corner, Nice will continue to reap the benefits of his success.
Poor showing in the Europa league would’ve created concerns for Lucien Favre as his Nice side finished in the bottom of the group. But he can be happy about the fact that they are still in the top of the French league. He has taken some important results which includes the likes of the 2-2 draw at Paris, 4-0 thrashing against Monaco and 2-0 win against Lyon at home. Last week they were sent out of Coupe de la Ligue with a loss against Bordeaux. They have shown some defensive frailties which has costed for them in certain instances. But as of now, this means that they have to concentrate only in the league unlike other contenders PSG and Monaco who have to play in Europe as well as the domestic competition. OGC Nice this term have a great chance to contend for the title and it looks as though they may win the competition after more than fifty years.
Initially written on – Dec 19, 2016.