Nice have had a miserable league campaign so far this season. After last season’s surprising 3rd place finish, they have slipped and currently sit 17th with just four league wins in 13 matches. However, despite their abysmal league form, Nice have had a relatively successful group stage campaign and currently sit second in the group. They enter this match knowing that a win is needed to confirm their qualification for the round of 32 and give Lucien Favre the luxury of resting players against Vitesse on the final matchday.
Last season Zulte Waregem finished in an impressive 3rd place and also won the Belgian Cup. Much like Nice this season, however, their form has deteriorated this season and they find themselves currently languishing in a mid table ninth position. Their Europa league endeavours have been relatively successful and they have picked up four points so far, but being in a group containing Lazio and Nice has proven to be too tall an order. Zulte go into this match needing a win to have a small chance of qualifying.
Mario Balotelli is back for Lucien Favre’s men after being suspended during last weekend’s Ligue 1 draw at Caen. In injury news, Wylan Cyprien is still missing due to a long term injury while Allan Saint-Maximin and Malang Sarr are also missing from the eighteen man squad. The inclusion of Balotelli could see Favre shift away from the 4-2-3-1 system he has implemented in recent matches and back into a 4-4-2 with Balotelli partnering Plea upfront.
Nampalys Mendy has cemented himself as the club’s first choice defensive midfielder and could partner Adrien Tameze, Vincent Koziello or Jean Michael Seri depending on the Ivorian midfielder’s fitness. Nice’s goalkeeping situation seems to have been at least temporarily resolved with Walter Benitez replacing the out of form Yoan Cardinale during the last handful of matches.
Zulte Waregem are without Belgian attacking midfielder Onur Kaya, because of personal reasons while the absence of top goalscorer Peter Olayinka due to injury is sure to be a huge loss for the Belgian side. Head coach Francky Dury has mainly stuck to switching between a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 system this season, and it remains to be seen which one he opts for against Nice. The lack of attacking talent due to Olayinka and Kaya’s absences will also affect his decision.
Alassane Pléa (OGC Nice) – The French striker enjoyed a breakout season last year before injury cruelly cut his campaign short. Going into this season, many expected Plea to continue his emergence, however, Plea much like most of the Nice squad has been disappointing and currently sits on just three league goals.
Despite his poor league form, Plea has been fruitful in the Europa League this season and has scored four goals so far. Plea scored a brace in Belgium during the first matchup between these two sides, and if he can conjure a repeat performance he should be able to fire Nice into the round of 32.
Aaron Leya Iseka (Zulte Waregem) – Because of the absence of Olayinka, most of the attacking responsibility will fall onto Iseka’s young shoulders. The Belgian striker who is the brother of Chelsea player Michy Batshuayi has scored five goals in all competitions this season, and is Zulte’s joint top goalscorer. Iseka, who is on loan from fellow Pro League side Anderlecht, previously played for French side Olympique Marseille but failed to make a mark and returned to Belgium. At just twenty years old, Iseka still has plenty of time to prove his doubters wrong, and this season he has begun to showcase his potential. Should Zulte pick up an unlikely win in France, they will need to be extremely clinical when chances fall their way and Iseka will need to play a central role in this.
Nice thrashed Zulte 1-5 in the first fixture, and I can’t see that result changing in the second match. Nice’s attacking prowess will prove too much for Zulte to handle, and I expect them to clinch their qualification with a dominant win.
OGC Nice 3-0 Zulte Waregem