New-look Nice head to Montpellier aiming for the top
OGC Nice, armed with new owners and star striker Kasper Dolberg, head to Montpellier Hérault SC on Saturday with only goal difference separating them from the top of the Ligue 1 Conforama table.
Montpellier Hérault SC - OGC Nice
Patrick Vieira's side have made a positive start to the 2019-20 campaign, winning three of their opening four games, the most recent of which saw them beat early league leaders Stade Rennais FC 2-1 before the international break.
The south coast club's fortunes were further bolstered the previous week, with British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe leading a takeover of the club, which was followed by the arrivals of Denmark striker Dolberg from Ajax, and Algeria midfielder Adam Ounas on loan from Napoli, among others.
Champions League ambition
"Our aim is to be in the Champions League in three to five years," said Sir Jim's brother Bob, speaking on behalf of new owners Ineos. "We want to challenge PSG, Lyon and the other big teams in France. We [also] want to compete with the best youth academies in the world, like Ajax. Patrick Vieira will be essential for our project. The way he works with young players is very exciting."
Watch: Highlights of Nice's 2-1 win over Rennes
Dolberg and Ounas are set to make their Nice debuts at the Stade de la Mosson, but fellow new signing Alexis Claude-Maurice, who plundered 14 goals and four assists for FC Lorient in Domino's Ligue 2 last season, has a knee ligament injury.
Further back, Christophe Hérelle has a knee problem of his own, while Malang Sarr is still suffering with a back complaint, so club captain Dante is likely to be partnered by 19-year-old Andy Pelmard in central defence once again.
Lacking Savanier's supply line
Montpellier, who finished in sixth last season, one place and three points clear of Nice, come into Saturday's game in 14th, having won just one of their opening three games before the international break.
Fate has been less kind to La Paillade of late. With midfield fulcrum Ellyes Skhiri moving to Cologne, Montpellier secured the services of Téji Savanier, who laid on 13 league assists for his Nîmes Olympique teammates last term. The 27-year-old had barely touched down before damaging his MCL knee ligament, though, and the side have lacked penetration as a result.
Watch: Highlights of Montpellier's 1-0 loss to Nantes
The most recent result - a 1-0 reverse at FC Nantes - got under coach Michel Der Zakarian's skin in particular.
'Too many bad decisions'
"We just didn't use the ball well enough," he said at his post-match press conference in the Stade de la Beaujoire. "The final ball or cross simply wasn't good enough. We weren't dangerous enough in the final third, not enough for my liking. Fatigue's no excuse. We made too many bad decisions."
Joris Chotard, the 17-year-old already starring for the France U19 team, is pushing for his first involvement since the 1-0 loss to Rennes on the opening day. Savanier aside, Montpellier have a clean bill of health, but Der Zakarian could experiment in a bid to jumpstart his side's campaign.
Montpellier: Rulli; Mendes, Hilton, Congré; Souquet, Le Tallec, Ferri, Oyongo; Mollet; Laborde, Delort
Nice: Benitez; Burner, Pelmard, Dante, Coly; Tamèze, Cyprien; Ganago, Ounas, Atal; Dolberg