Schalke started the season badly, losing their first five league matches. However, since then they have not lost and are unbeaten in the last 9 matches including an impressive 0-1 away win at Wolfsburg and a 4-0 drubbing of Borussia Monchengladbach.
With an ambitious coach in Markus Weinzierl and a young talented squad containing talents such as Max Meyer, Breel Embolo, Leon Goretzka and Alessandro Schopf many Schalke fans are understandably feeling excited for the future. Schalke have already qualified from the group stage and need just a point to secure top spot to give them the luxury of being able to rest players on Matchday 6.
Nice, on the other hand, know that a loss will eliminate them from contention to progress to the next round. With this in mind, it seems obvious that Lucien Favre will put out his strongest possible lineup against Schalke. However, it might be prudent for Favre to choose to rest players given that Nice are currently in 1st place in Ligue 1 and are hoping to sustain their title challenge throughout the season.
Team news and tactics:
Schalke are without their first choice strikers in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Breel Embolo due to injury. Atsuto Uchida is also out, while Coke still hasn’t fully recovered from a knee injury he suffered back in August.
Since the losses of Huntelaar and Embolo, Weinzierl has switched Schalke to a 3-5-2 and the change has been met with immediate success. Ralf Fahrmann is firmly established as number one and will start in goal.
The back three should consist of Nastasic, Naldo and Howedes with either Kolasinac or Baba playing as a left wingback and Schopf playing on the right. The midfield is expected to consist of Gies, Goretzka and Bentaleb. Upfront Eric Choupo Moting will most likely start next to Max Meyer who will deputize as a striker.
Nice are without Mario Balotelli due to a calf problem, while club captain Paul Baysse is also still unavailable. Maxime Le Marchand, Mickael Le Bihan and Gautier Lloris are still recovering from long term injuries and are also out of contention.
Because of the injury to Baysse, Favre has been forced to switch from the preferred 3-5-2 to a more standard 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-3. Yoan Cardinale will be looking to continue his excellent start to the season and looks certain to start in goal.
The backline is expected to consist of Dalbert, Dante, Sarr and Pereira, however, there is a possibility that Favre will opt for Souquet instead of Pereira at right back. The midfield is probably the most difficult to predict. Throughout the season Favre has opted to pick his three man midfield from the player pool of Jean Michel Seri, Wylan Cyprien, Vincent Koziello and Remi Walter.
With this in mind, I expect Favre to opt for a more robust trio and start Walter as a defensive midfielder with Seri and Cyprien supporting him and Koziello starting on the bench. The front line is more easy to predict.
Alassane Plea is the only established striking option and will be hoping to add to his 8 goals this season. Younes Belhanda and Valentin Eysseric look certain to start out wide as inverted wingers and will drift inside to help Nice gain midfield superiority.
Max Meyer – Schalke 04
The German midfielder is a wonderful talent, capable of changing games single handedly and it seems only a matter of time before he follows his former teammate Leroy Sane and leaves for a bigger club.
Having been compared to players such as Mario Gotze and Lionel Messi, Meyer’s reputation certainly precedes him. The young German is most comfortable when playing as an attacking midfielder but is capable of playing out wide or upfront as this season has proved. Schalke’s hopes of making a sustained run in Europe will rest on whether Meyer can adapt and replace the output of players such as Huntelaar.
Alassane Plea – OGC Nice
The French striker has had a breakthrough season so far and is Nice’s top scorer ahead of Mario Balotelli. Labeled as a talent who couldn’t fulfill on his potential in previous seasons, Plea has emerged this season as a much more consistent goalscorer, capable of leading the line by himself. If he continues to perform the way he has then it is only a matter of time before he gets more widespread recognition.
Schalke are in a very good run of form and will want to seal their position as group leaders. Nice on the other hand have been poor in Europe this season and will have their mind on Ligue 1. Because of this and Schalke’s home advantage, I’m predicting a comfortable win for Schalke.
Prediction: Schalke 2-0 Nice