Balotelli on form as Nice welcome Lyon
OGC Nice welcome Olympique Lyonnais to the Allianz Arena on Sunday afternoon with Mario Balotelli enjoying a timely return to form as the club look to clamber up the Ligue 1 Conforama table.
OGC Nice - Olympique Lyonnais
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Nice finished third behind champions AS Monaco and runners-up Paris Saint-Germain last term, with their final points haul of 78 some 11 better than that of Sunday's visitors Lyon, who came fourth. Lucien Favre's men find themselves in 17th ahead of this Week 14 clash, though, whilst OL are third – a place Les Aiglons and their coach expected to be.
"It's a big relief for everyone," said Favre following his side's 3-1 victory over Belgian outfit Zulte-Waregem on Thursday evening – a win that guaranteed their progress to the knock-out stages of this season's UEFA Europa League. "There are still some great teams in the competition, like AC Milan and Arsenal. Nice belongs among this group of teams. It will take time to return to last year's level, but we'll get better, little by little."
Watch: Highlights of Nice's 1-1 draw with Caen
The result means that OGCN are now undefeated in three games, winning two of those. Balotelli scored and was red carded in the 1-0 win over Dijon FCO in Week 12, missing the subsequent 1-1 draw at SM Caen due to suspension, but he was back in action on Thursday, plundering a brace to take his season tally to 11 in all competitions, and is expected to feature on Sunday.
With Wylan Cyprien having just returned to action - in some style with the reserve team - after a torn cruciate ligament in his knee, Favre's only injury concern is Allan Saint-Maximin. The talented winger - signed from Monaco in the summer - pulled his hamstring following last month's 3-0 loss at PSG and could also miss Wednesday’s trip to Toulouse FC.
Lyon also punched their ticket for the Europa League last 32 on Thursday, beating Apollon Limassol 4-0 at Groupama Stadium. Unlike their hosts this weekend, Les Gones have been performing for most of the season domestically, too, with only PSG and Monaco above them in the standings, albeit in the opposite order to last year.
Watch: Highlights of Nice's 0-0 draw at Montpellier
"Qualifying for the knock-out stages was the number one goal," said Favre's opposite number Bruno Génésio after Mouctar Diakhaby, Nabil Fekir, Mariano Diaz and teenaged forward Myziane Maolida had shared goals against the Cypriots. "But now we must play for first place. We want to avoid the four best third-placed teams from the Champions League."
Diakhaby the midfielder?
Thursday's victory came at a cost for Lyon, with Bertrand Traoré and Jérémy Morel picking up knee and thigh injuries respectively. They join midfielders Jordan Ferri (shoulder) and Clément Grenier (match fitness) on the sidelines. With Lucas Tousart having played every minute of Lyon's Ligue 1 Conforama campaign so far, centre-back Diakhaby is expected to play in the middle of the park on Sunday, as he did with aplomb on Thursday.
"Tousart has played the most games in the squad," said Génésio. "And he’s also been helping out with the Under-21s. We have a tough run of games ahead of us and I wanted to see if Mouctar could hold his position. After a difficult start he adapted well."
Nice: Benitez; Souquet, Marlon, Dante (c), Le Marchand, Jallet; Tameze, Mendy, Seri; Plea, Balotelli
Lyon: Lopes; Tete, Marcelo, Diakhaby, Mendy; Tousart, Aouar; Cornet, Fekir (c), Mamphis; Mariano
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