In one of the more exciting Europa League group fixtures, OGC Nice take on the German side Schalke 04 who despite a bad start to the Bundesliga season are favourites to top the group.
Nice have started their campaign impressively winning three and drawing once in their first four league games. Last week’s win against Marseille gave Nice fans a chance to watch new signing Mario Balotelli for the first time. Balotelli certainly got off to a good start, scoring twice on his debut and propelling Nice to a 3-2 win over their rivals.
Schalke, on the other hand, have started the season with two losses against Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayern Munich, and while it can be argued that they deserved at least a draw against Bayern, new coach Markus Weinzierl will be anxious for Schalke to get a good result in Nice to kickstart Schalke’s season.
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Nice have an almost full squad available for the match. The only omissions are Valentin Eysseric who is suspended because of his red card with Saint Etienne last season in Europe’s second tier competition, and Maxime Le Marchand who is out with a long term injury.
Nice played the first three league games of the season in a 4-3-3, however, with the arrival of Mario Balotelli, Favre switched to a 3-5-2 against Marseille. I expect them to start with the same lineup against Schalke.
Yoan Cardinale will start in goal, with Dante, Sarr and Paul Baysse forming a three man defence in front of him. Dalbert and Ricardo Pereira will play as wingbacks, while Koziello, Seri and Cyprien will form the midfield. Balotelli and Plea will start centrally upfront with Plea occasionally drifting to the wings.
Schalke will be without Atsuto Uchida, Coke and Donis Avdijaj, but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has made the squad, having recovered from a mild concussion suffered against Bayern Munich. Markus Weinzierl has been faithful to the 4-2-3-1 so far this season, and Schalke will almost certainly start with the same shape against Nice. Fahrmann will most likely start in goal and will be protected by a four man backline of Baba, Naldo, Nastasic and Howedes.
Johannes Geis will probably replace Stambouli in the lineup and will partner with Nabil Bentaleb in the pivot. Leon Goretzka started against Bayern in the number ten role, but Weinzierl could opt to bring in Max Meyer instead of Goretzka. Konoplyanka and Chupo-Moting are expected to start on the wings while Breel Embolo is likely to start upfront after Huntelaar’s concussion scare against Bayern.
Mario Balotelli (Nice) – The Italian is expected to lead the line for Nice this season, and will need to prove that he is capable of accounting for Germain’s performances from last campaign. The early signs are certainly good after Balotelli scored twice against Marseille, however, Schalke will prove a much sterner test. Nice will be depending on Balotelli to trouble the Schalke defense with his pace and power and hopefully get on the scoresheet.
Yevhen Konoplyanka (Schalke) – Despite his troubles last season the Ukrainian remains a hugely talented footballer and has the ability to come up with a moment of magic in an instant. The tricky winger looked impressive against Bayern with his dribbling ability causing them problems throughout the game, and Weinzierl will be hoping for a similar performance against the French side.
Despite Schalke’s recent poor form, both teams are relatively evenly matched and I am expecting a tense game with both sides canceling each other out. A draw would certainly not be a bad result for either team and I am expecting both managers to walk away satisfied with a point.
Prediction: Nice 2-2 Schalke