Saint-Étienne to get back on track at Nice's expense?
AS Saint-Étienne coach Claude Puel will hope his side can bounce back from their first defeat under him and push on for a top-three place when they host his resurgent former club OGC Nice on Wednesday.
AS Saint-Étienne - OGC Nice
Puel, who coached Nice from 2012 to 2016, had opened his tenure of Les Verts with a six-game unbeaten run, part of a seven-match streak of invincibility from the record ten-time French champions that had lifted them from the relegation zone to the foot of the podium.
Cracks had been beginning to appear though, and despite going in front against Stade Rennais FC on Sunday, Saint-Étienne slipped to a 2-1 loss in Brittany as Damien Da Silva headed home the matchwinner with just seconds left in the game.
WATCH: Rennes sink Puel's Saint-Étienne for first time
"I'm not bothered about runs. It's just a shame to have let slip a point in the last few seconds," said Puel, whose team dropped to ninth, but are just two points off third-placed Angers SCO.
"We were very very tired at the end of the game. Playing every three days with all the injuries that we have begins to wear you down. Tiredness explains our lack of precision at the end of the game."
Puel withdrew captian Loïc Perrin at half-time at Roazhon Park due to a knee problem, and brought off top scorer Denis Bouanga after an hour in a bid to give the Gabon international a breather after a hectic opening few months for club and country.
With Mathieu Debuchy, William Saliba, Yohan Cabaye, Romain Hamouma, Wahbi Khazri and Kevin Monnet-Paquet among a host of first-team regulars confined to the treatment room and young midfielder Zaydou Youssouff suspended for the game, Saint-Étienne's squad is decimated.
They do have history heavily in their favour, however, with 29 wins to just 11 for Nice in top-flight meetings between them at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
A few weeks ago, when Nice were on a desperate run of just one win and five defeats in seven league games, there would have been little likelihood of the visitors getting anything from the trip. But Patrick Vieira's men have found some sort of form in the last month, picking up seven points from a possible 12.
WATCH: Nice's Angers management skills
Their most impressive performance to date came last weekend as they recorded a 3-1 win over Angers that lifted them away from trouble, putting five points between Nice and the bottom three.
"Against Lyon, we already showed some interesting moves, although we lacked that little something and weren’t good enough with our final ball. This evening, we moved well, we scored goals that were beautiful to watch. Physically, we are better and that's when the players' quality can come through," said Vieira, who saw summer arrival Kasper Dolberg net his fourth goal of the season to cap the win late on.
"The aim, like with Adam [Ounas], is to get the ball to them more often. They're two very talented players, and we need to get the ball to them more often and more quickly. It's not just a one-way thing: they need to make themselves more available to the man on the ball. There is still a partnership to be worked on, they've only played a few games together. They need time."
Saint-Étienne: Ruffier (c) - Fofana, Moukoudi, Kolodziejczak - Palencia, Camara, M'Vila, Boudebouz, Trauco - Diony, Bouanga
Nice: Benitez - Boudaoui, Sarr, Coly - Atal, Lusamba, Cyprien (c), Lees-Melou, N'Soki - Maolida, Dolberg