Ligue 1 Review | Narrow margins end Nice’s title hopes

At the start of the season, it was hard not to get swept up in the belief that seemed to emanate from Francesco Farioli’s OGC Nice. After a victory against Clermont Foot in late October the club had finally topped the table, and whilst this only lasted for another week it suggested something hopeful; that Ligue 1 could have a title race on its hands.

Les Aiglons entered December unbeaten and had in the process defeated Paris-Saint Germain, AS Monaco, and Olympique de Marseille, on a run that had rarely looked threatened except by the occasional draw. And yet, a visit to FC Nantes was to be the beginning of the end for a title race that has slowly slipped out of sight. 

A gap of four points between Nice and PSG after the loss to Nantes has only grown since December to fourteen. And after the latest loss, to Olympique Lyonnais, the club has finally dropped from their perch in second place. 

Nice and the One Goal Margin 

Farioli had warned caution at the start of the season following the derby win over Monaco, “difficulties will await us. We have to anticipate them and know how to avoid them and continue to work, as we’ve done so far, perhaps even more.” 

How well they have anticipated and responded to these “difficulties” remains an ongoing negotiation, as the club suffered their third loss in a row across all competitions in their Friday night defeat away to Lyon. 

Nice had performed poorly in the game and despite having twenty shots, double the amount of their hosts, they struggled to create many meaningful chances. The club will of course point to their missed penalty call, which the technical director of refereeing, Stéphane Lannoy has admitted was a mistake.

Yet, encapsulated in that missed decision is part of the reason why Farioli has attempted to calm expectations down so early on in the season, as Nice have relied on winning games by the narrowest of margins throughout the competition. And against Lyon, Nice were once again resting on a single opportunity to rescue a point. 

Even during their unbeaten streak Les Aiglons only ever won two games by more than a single goal. Across an entire season, this was obviously an unsustainable approach, it was hard to expect a team to keep winning games by a one-goal margin, as the scoreline invites the risk of dropped points. 

Drop In Performances and Missing Goal Scorers

Farioli has also had to contest with a drop in performances from key players such as Khéphren Thuram. The midfielder has struggled to adjust to the demands of the manager’s system, and the creativity that he has often shown throughout his time with Les Aiglons has become more limited this season under the summer appointment. 

The midfielder is yet to score or assist under Farioli and feels less vital to a team that has excelled through hard defensive work over attacking creativity. Nice have the lowest amount of goals conceded, but they also have the joint third-lowest amount of goals scored. 

This was a problem that was only emphasised by the absence of their top goal scorer, Terem Moffi, whilst he was representing Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations. The forward has been the most clinical of Nice’s players with six goals and was out for the duration of the tournament as Nigeria reached the final, only returning as a substitute against Lyon.

Still, despite the difficult patch that Nice have entered, these criticisms have only emerged because of the exceptional work that was done at the start of the season. An unrealistic expectation was set when it was hoped that they could challenge PSG’s hegemony. And now with that hope thoroughly dashed a more realistic analysis can be formed. 

This is a team that looks capable of reaching their goal at the start of the season to clinch a European position, and to that aim, they look well-placed to finish in the Champions League positions. However, much will now rely on how well they can navigate and respond to these difficult moments. Narrow margins can lead to narrow losses, and narrow losses could see them drop further down the table. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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