Both Nice and Ajax were revelations last season and found most of their success through the use of young talented squads. Ajax gave football purists hope that they were back to their best as they dazzled the Europe League with a young team containing the likes of Kasper Dolberg, Bertrand Traoré and Davinson Sanchez. These players propelled Ajax to the final where they faced Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. Sadly, however, Ajax lost 2-0 in a completely one-sided final, and manager Peter Bosz departed to Borussia Dortmund shortly afterward. The game against Nice will serve as an early test of whether Ajax can continue the climb back to their former heights under the guidance of new coach Marcel Keizer.
Nice’s Europa league campaign couldn’t have been more different from Ajax as they crashed out of the group stages with just two wins from six matches. However, on the domestic stage they put together an impressive season as they challenged both PSG and AS Monaco for the Ligue 1 title, and finished the season in 3rd place, thus qualifying for the right to attempt to qualify for the Champions League.
Swiss coach Lucien Favre cemented himself as one of Europe’s finest coaches and turned an already entertaining Nice side into a slick winning machine powered by talents such as Mario Balotelli, Jean Michel Seri, and Alassane Pléa. Qualification for the Champions League group stages would be a huge boost for the French club as they look to keep hold of Favre and confirm their upward trajectory.
Nice – Nice will be without the services of Wylan Cyprien who is still out with a long term injury. Cyprien is the only major absentee and Favre has a nearly full squad to choose from. Christophe Jallet, who joined from Lyon just last week, is not expected to be included and neither is Dalbert, who is being punished for his attitude towards forcing a move to Inter Milan. The Swiss tactician has experimented with a variety of systems during pre-season but a 4-2-3-1 looks the most likely. Should Favre wish to play Plea and Balotelli upfront together then he could also opt for a 4-4-2.
Ajax – Marcel Keizer has opted to leave Daley Sinkgraven and Mitchell Dijks in Amsterdam with neither being deemed fit enough to take part. Mateo Cassierra and Vaclav Cerny have also been left at home. There is however some good news for the Dutch club as goalkeeper Andre Onana is in the squad despite doubts about his fitness. Expect Ajax to lineup in their classic 4-3-3 and press aggressively early in the match.
Alassane Pléa (OGC Nice) – The Frenchman showed big improvement during the 2016-2017 season and looks set to continue that form into the new campaign. Pléa’s versatility may see him play on the wing against Ajax but he will almost certainly drift inside which could cause problems for an inexperienced Ajax defence which looked shaky at times last season. Pléa has always had pace but his movement has improved over the last 12 months. Returning from a long-term injury, if he can find space against Ajax then he could be the difference maker in what will surely be a tight contest.
Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) – One of the few Ajax players to walk out of the Europa League final with a good performance, Ziyech is an extremely talented player who possesses wonderful passing and dribbling ability which he showcases from his traditional number 10 role. If Ajax are to bring a positive result with them back to Amsterdam then Ziyech will almost certainly play a major role.
This is an extremely tough game to predict. Both teams prefer to have the ball and press high up the field. In terms of talent Nice are probably a shade ahead but not enough to show massively on the field. When two teams are evenly matched the result often comes down to the two coaches.
In Lucien Favre, Nice have an experienced tactician who has shown his ability to adapt to the team he is facing. Ajax struggled with the prospect of facing a defensive team in Manchester United last season and were almost completely nullified. Favre will have absolutely no qualms about copying this tactic: Sitting deep and striking on the counter. Marcel Keizer may well prove to be a good manager for Ajax but he lacks experience in European ties and this could well prove to be a defining factor. However, this Ajax team are good enough to score and I’m predicting that they’ll go home with at the very least a fighting chance.
Prediction: OGC Nice 3-1 Ajax