Game Details
Northern Ireland
5:00 PM UTC
Game Details
5:00 PM UTC
Game Details
San Marino
Game Details
7:45 PM UTC
Game Details
7:45 PM UTC
Game Details
Game Details

Forget Messi and Ronaldo: Piatek leads top leagues in goals

FC United

Mario Balotelli still among the goals but Nice face a season of struggle

Nice coach Lucien Favre is not just a great manager, he is also a good, loyal man who turned down Borussia Dortmund in May to stay on the Riviera. He is a bit of a psychic as well, predicting that his team could have a tough campaign after the highs of last season (a third place finish after leading Ligue 1).

So on Sunday, after his players lost again, this time to Montpellier, he reminded everyone: "Before the start of the season, I announced that it could be very difficult for us."

However, even the most pessimistic Nice fan would not have been able to predict such a horrendous start. After nine league matches, the Eaglets are 14th in the table with 10 points. They have lost five times already, once more than in the whole of last season, and have only managed three wins.

At this stage last year they were top of Ligue 1 with 23 points, four clear of PSG and Monaco, unbeaten after seven wins and two draws; they had conceded only five goals, compared to 14 already this campaign.

Even if last season was a freak one for Nice, especially up to Christmas, you have to go back to 2012 to find a start as bad as the current one. The team only had nine points then.

Nice find themselves closer to the bottom three than the top three first and foremost because of all the little mistakes some of the players are making. The rigorous and disciplined unit from last season is no longer there. From Yoan Cardinale in goal to Alassane Plea up front, from Jean-Michael Seri in midfield to Dante at the back, they keep making errors that cost their team dearly.

Wylan Cyprien turns the corner on Montpellier's Paul Lasne in Nice's 2-1 Ligue 1 win on Friday.
Wylan Cyprien's long-term knee injury has been a desperate blow for Nice.

Nice were probably over-efficient in all areas last year. They are certainly under-efficient this season. Against Marseille at home, for example, they went 2-0 up early and looked in control before allowing l'OM to come back (and eventually win 4-2), creating their own downfall.

The absence of Wylan Cyprien, the revelation of last season, who seriously injured his knee six months ago, has been a huge blow. Defensively and offensively, the young midfielder was the maestro of this team. Nice haven't found the same stability since they lost him. The departures in the summer of Younes Belhanda, Dalbert, Paul Baysse, Valentin Esseyric and Ricardo Perreira have hurt the team as well. If you add Cyprien, it's six starters from last year who are not there anymore.

Like Monaco, Nice have a business plan where they sell their best players and start a new cycle with younger ones. Seri should have gone to Barcelona but Nice moved the goalposts of the deal to try to get more money at the last minute, which the Catalans didn't like, so Seri stayed against his will -- and he hasn't been the same player since.

The problem for Nice is that the summer recruitment has failed to plug the gaps left by the departures. Pierre Lees-Melou has only managed a few good performances. Allan Saint-Maximin has great potential but he needs to be more clinical and consistent. Christophe Jallet is experienced but, at 34, has his best years behind him and plays out of position at left-back. Marlon, on loan from Barcelona, has only showed glimpses of his ability so far. Wesley Sneijder has been a huge failure and the others (Jean-Victor Kamengo, Racine Coly, Adrien Tameze) are not ready yet.

As Favre put it on Sunday: "We need more time to get the same quality as last season."

Mario Balotelli is one of the few Nice players to play to his potential.

The manager has tried to shake things up tactically. The 4-3-3 mostly used last year was not so compatible anymore with the squad he has. He has opted for a 4-4-2 that works at times but also leaves the defence far too exposed. It needs some adjustment defensively when the team loses the ball. Last week, Favre tried a back three during training and could deploy it in competitive matches soon. Whatever the formation, however, the Eaglets will have to score more goals.

At the moment, funnily enough, only Mario Balotelli is delivering, having netted five times in his six Ligue 1 matches this season. Plea is on three because he misses too many chances, not for lack of opportunities.

Nice have only won one of their last four matches in all competitions (one draw and two losses) and that was in the Europa League against Vitesse. On Thursday, they meet high-flying Lazio and another bad result would put even more pressure on Favre and his team.

Mind you, there is still some hope. In 2012-13, after having only collected nine points from their first nine league games, Nice still finished fourth at the end of the season. Five years later, they need another fabulous recovery.

Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.