Nice without Balotelli in Nancy
By A. Scott
OGC Nice will have to do without Mario Balotelli due to injury as Les Aiglons visit AS Nancy Lorraine on Sunday looking to reclaim top spot.
AS Nancy Lorraine - OGC Nice
Balotelli has had a stunning impact on his new club with four goals in two Ligue 1 appearances including a brace in Wednesday's 4-0 demolition of AS Monaco in the Côte d'Azur derby that allowed Nice to go top of the table. No other player has scored four goals in their first two Ligue 1 games in the last 25 years.
The former AC Milan striker had previously scored a brace on his debut against Olympique de Marseille before also playing in the home defeat to Schalke 04 in the Europa League and then being rested for the 1-1 draw away to Montpellier Hérault SC, officially due to "muscle pains".
This time the 26-year-old has an adductor problem, and coach Lucien Favre could therefore hand a start to Valentin Eysseric at the Stade Marcel-Picot as the south-coast side look for a result that would maintain their unbeaten start to the league campaign and allow them to finish the weekend where they started it, on top of the standings.
It remains to be seen if Balotelli will return for the long trip to Russia when Nice take on FK Krasnodar in the Europa League on Thursday. They are still looking for their first points in that competition but it has been a stunning start domestically, with Paul Baysse and Alassane Pléa also scoring against Monaco at the Allianz Riviera.
"We are trying to remain focused and looking to pick up all the points there are to be taken. We don't stop to think about things too much, we are one of the youngest teams in Europe. We are enjoying life to the full this season, in every competition. We are really enjoying being out on the pitch and I think you could see that on Wednesday. But we are keeping our feet on the ground and we know the work that we still need to do in order to keep progressing," said Baysse, whose goal against Monaco was his first for the club.
Sunday's opponents Nancy lost their first three matches of the season on their return to Ligue 1 but their form has improved since the September international break. Pablo Correa's men have followed a 2-0 win away at FC Lorient by drawing 1-1 at home to FC Nantes and then holding SC Bastia to a goalless draw in Corsica in midweek as a five-man defence frustrated the home side.
"We didn't concede a goal, that was the main thing. It is a positive point," said young defender Clément Lenglet, who captained Nancy at the Stade Armand-Cesari. "The fact that we played with five at the back gives the coach another option against certain opponents."
It remains to be seen if Correa will stick with a back five against a Nice side who have also successfully played with three centre-backs in recent games and it is certainly set to be an interesting tactical battle.
The match could also see two Nice players come up against their old clubs. The 19-year-old midfielder Arnaud Lusamba, who scored five goals in 19 appearances in Nancy's run to the Ligue 2 title last season, joined Nice in the summer for a fee of around €2.5 million. Before him, Rémi Walter made the switch in January, and for veteran Nancy midfielder Benoît Pedretti, an inability to keep their best youngsters is enormously frustrating.
"In terms of the supporters, the infrastructure, it is set up for the elite. But the club is coming back from three difficult years in Ligue 2 where it was suffering financially. The club gets by through producing youngsters but having to sell the best ones every year. There is a lot of frustration in that regard," Pedretti, now 35 and who didn't play at Bastia in midweek, told France Football.
"(Ibrahim) Amadou, Lusamba, (Paul) Nardi and Walter have all been sold at 19, 20 or 21 without playing in Ligue 1 for their first club. Nancy would really be a good Ligue 1 club if they could keep their best young players until the age of 22 or 23 and progress with them."
Nancy: Ndy Assembé; Cétout, Cabaco, Chrétien, Lenglet, Badila; Guidileye, Pedretti, Marchetti; Robic, Hadji (c)
Nice: Cardinale; Baysse (c), Dante, Sarr; Pereira, Walter, Bodmer, Cyprien, Dalbert; Eysseric; Pléa