Nice will seek to press their claims for a European place — and perhaps even a podium finish — when they host outgoing Ligue 1 Uber Eats champions Lille in Saturday's penultimate game of the 2021/22 season (kick-off 9pm CEST).
After missing out on a UEFA Europa League spot as a result of their Coupe de France final defeat to Nantes last weekend, Nice looked in danger of suffering a potentially fatal blow to their ambitions of qualifying for European competition via the league when they trailed 2-0 to struggling Saint-Etienne in Wednesday's rearranged Round 36 fixture.
Christophe Galtier's men turned things round, however, scoring four times after the half-time interval to claim a third successive win and move into fourth place, a position they held thanks to Nantes' defeat of Rennes later the same day.
WATCH: Nice tear Lille apart early this season
"At the break, first of all Dante, our captain, spoke, in his own way, with his experience. Then JC [Todibo] took the floor, in his own way too. Then finally I took the board, my screen, to specify and insist on the fact that we had to respect the positions, it was at this point that things were going to be played out, and obviously, I said that we had to have more spirit," said Galtier to explain the turnaround, adding that his backroom staff had provided some crucial insight.
"The whole staff, my analysts who were upstairs, brought out some pretty important footage that showed where we were in trouble and how we could put them in danger. The victory belongs to the players, obviously. They did not outdo themselves, but there was an extra spirit, the desire not to end the season like that, because a defeat would have meant that our season was over. This gives us a lot of hope to fight for the European places, with the game against Lille."
"We had to change everything round from what we did in the first half, and that's what we did. It shows the spirit that we have had since the start of the season. The team deserves credit for that," said forward Andy Delort, who scored twice in quick succession around the hour mark after Melvin Bard had reduced the deficit with substitute Hicham Boudaoui providing the fourth goal.
"When we scored, it relaxed us a bit, and we were good in front of goal after that. That's what made the difference."
Galtier now comes up against the team that he led to the French top-flight title last season, and whom he saw his new side dismantle 4-0 at the Stade Pierre Mauroy early in the campaign.
Initially written off as an early season slip, that loss set the tone for a disappointing title defence under Galtier's successor, Jocelyn Gourvennec. Positioned exactly in mid-table, the northerners now head to the Côte d'Azur with nothing but pride and the chance to put a smile on their disgruntled fans' faces to play for.
"Even if our situation is difficult now, we have to win, because there is nothing better for a club like Lille," explained full-back Zeki Celik. "After winning the title, the fans are disappointed, we have that in mind. We have always been focussed, and we're all going to work to make them happy. The first match against Nice this season was difficult. I watched their game [on Wednesday]. Three days isn't a lot of recovery time, I hope it'll be an advantage for us."
Lille are struggling to put together a midfield. With Xeka nursing an ankle injury and Benjamin André and Renato Sanches both suspended — the first for an accumulation of yellow cards, the latter for his red at Troyes — Amadou Onana is Gourvennec's only natural-born midfielder.
"We'll see, there are several possibilities," said the Lille coach, who is also without the suspended Sven Botman, but does welcome back forward Burak Yilmaz after a ban that meant he missed the 2-1 home defeat to Monaco last time out.
Nice: Benitez; Daniliuc, Dante (c), Todibo, Bard; Boudaoui, Rosario, Thuram, Kluivert; Dolberg, Delort
Lille: to follow