Nice gave themselves a lifeline when they beat Salzburg 0-1 on matchday three, but they still face an uphill battle to qualify from the group stage. They will need to continue their recent good form which has seen them lose just once in the last eight games if they are to keep pace with FC Krasnodar and Schalke 04.
Salzburg are still mathematically in contention but know that anything less than a win against Nice will almost certainly eliminate them from the group. Salzburg have made a difficult start to their domestic campaign and sit third in the Austrian Bundesliga. However, since their loss to Nice they have won both of their domestic games and are giving fans hope that their poor form was just an aberration.
Nice on the other hand are unbeaten in the league this season which has led fans to whisper of a potential title challenge. This in turn has led many to make the statement that Favre should choose to rest players in the Europa league and focus on Ligue 1. The Swiss tactician has resisted this however, and has chosen to put out strong lineups for each of Nice’s three European matches.
Team news and tactics
Remi Walter and Dalbert return from injury but Nice are without Paul Baysse and Maxime Le Marchand which leaves them with a small crisis at centre back.
Since the loss of Baysse through injury, Lucien Favre has switched from Nice’s standard 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3. I expect this to continue against Salzburg. Yoan Cardinale looks certain to start in goal and will most likely be protected by Ricardo Pereira, Malang Sarr, Dante and Souquet. Olivier Boscagli is the only other defender in the squad and Favre will most likely opt to keep Dalbert on the bench following his injury. The midfield three is tough to predict seeing as Favre regularly rotates, but I predict he will opt for the trio of Jean Michel Seri, Wylan Cyprien and Vincent Koziello.
Younes Belhanda started the last match against Nantes on the left of the front three and I expect that to continue against Salzburg. Balotelli should start upfront while Alassane Plea will be looking to continue his good form and is expected to start on the right side of the attack.
Salzburg are without Smail Prevljak, Wanderson and Christian Schwegler due to injury.
Salzburg manager Oscar Garcia threw everyone for a loop (including me) when he opted to switch to a 4-4-2 on week three against Nice. With the benefit of hindsight, I predict he will decide not to make me look silly and play again with a 4-4-2 this time out.
I expect Alexander Walke to start in goal, behind a backline consisting of Andreas Ulmer, Paulo Miranda, Dayot Upamecano and Stefan Lainer. Konrad Laimer and Marc Rzatkowski will most likely start in the holding midfield roles with Valon Berisha and Valentino Lazaro on the wings. Jonatan Soriano will almost certainly start next to either Hee Chan Hwang or Munas Dabbur. I expect Chan to start based mainly on the fact that he started and scored twice in Salzburg’s last league game.
Alassane Plea – OGC Nice
Because of Balotelli’s superb form, Plea has been criminally underrated this season. The young Frenchman is Nice’s top scorer this season with 8 goals in all competitions. There were many who doubted whether Plea could be trusted to score regularly and he has risen to the challenge. Plea has proven this season that he is capable of being a reliable goalscorer for Nice and will be looking to continue his good form against Salzburg who he scored against on week three.
Jonatan Soriano – Red Bull Salzburg
In the matchday three preview, I stated that Salzburg’s hopes of getting a good result depended on Soriano getting good service and I believe the same is true here. The Spaniard has been one of the few bright spots in a difficult campaign for the Austrian champions and has scored ten goals in all competitions this season. Salzburg will be desperate for a good performance from Soriano as they look to give themselves a fighting chance in the group and get a result in Nice.
Despite Salzburg’s improved form, I can’t look past Nice for this one. The French side have lost just once at home this season and will be full of confidence after beating Nantes 4-1 last weekend.
Prediction: Nice 2-0 Salzburg