OGC Nice travel to Red Bull Salzburg with both sides knowing a loss will virtually eliminate any chance of progressing from the group stage.
If there has been one negative for Nice this season, it has been their poor European form. A 0-1 opening round loss to Schalke followed by a 5-2 dismantling at the hands of FC Krasnodar has left Nice at the bottom of group I.
Lucien Favre now faces a choice on whether to continue playing his strongest lineup in the Europe league or use it as an opportunity to rest players and give fringe players a chance. With Nice sitting on top of Ligue 1, he could be forgiven for choosing the latter.
Red Bull Salzburg have become one of Europe’s most underrated talent producers over the last few years with both Sadio Mane and Kevin Kampl being examples of players who have had breakthrough seasons at the Austrian team and left for a bigger club. This season was no different with Naby Keita and Bernardo both moving to RB Leipzig and Martin Hinteregger joining FC Augsburg.
It is fair to say that the Austrian champions have struggled to adjust to the loss of such key players. Salzburg sit third in the Austrian Bundesliga, nine points behind leaders SK Sturm Graz and are without a win in the last three domestic matches.
The Austrian side’s poor form has also extended to Europe where they were just three minutes away from qualifying for the Champions league before losing to Dinamo Zagreb in extra time. This relegated Salzburg to the Europa league where they have lost 0-1 to FC Krasnodar and 3-1 to Schalke.
Team News and Tactics
Salzburg are without Smail Prevljak, Wanderson, Diadie Samassekou, and Christian Schwegler due to injury.
Salzburg were famous for their 4-2-2-2 under Roger Schmidt. However, since his departure to Bayer Leverkusen, Salzburg have transitioned to a 4-2-3-1 under coach Oscar Garcia.
Alexander Walke will almost certainly start in goal while the defence will most likely consist of Duje Caleta-Car and Paulo Miranda at centre back, with Andreas Ulmer at left back and Andre Wisdom, who is on loan from Liverpool, at right back.
I expect Garcia to start the nineteen-year-old Konrad Laimer in the pivot alongside Josip Radosevic who looks likely to replace the injured Samassekou.
Valon Berisha is almost guaranteed to start in the attacking midfield role and will most likely be supported by Valentino Lazaro and Takumi Minamino on the wings. The hugely experienced Jonatan Soriano should start upfront.
Nice are without their talismanic striker Mario Balotelli who is suffering from a groin injury. Maxime Le Marchand is also still out with a long term injury.
Barring any unforeseen changes, I expect Nice to lineup in their familiar 3-5-2 formation which has been very successful so far this season.
Yoan Cardinale has started every single one of Nice’s matches this season, and I expect that to continue against Salzburg. The back three is also not expected to change with Dante playing alongside Paul Baysse and Malang Sarr. Dalbert and Ricardo Pereira are almost certain to start as the wingbacks.
The midfield is a little bit trickier to predict. Jean Michel Seri and Wylan Cyprien are expected to start, however, the third spot looks like a toss-up between Remi Walter and Vincent Koziello. In the end I expect Favre to opt for Walter because of his defensive qualities.
Alassane Plea looks likely to replace Balotelli in the lineup and will most likely partner Younes Belhanda upfront. There is however also a possibility that Valentin Eysseric replaces Younes Belhanda in the lineup.
Jonathan Soriano (Salzburg) – The striker has an incredible one hundred and seventy goals in one hundred and ninety appearances for Salzburg, and already has ten goals this season. Soriano is a very complete player thanks to his upbringing at Barcelona, and is comfortable with the ball at his feet as well as having good defensive instincts.
However, Soriano is most effective inside the box. The Spaniard is a talented finisher and is very strong in the air despite being relatively small at 5’11. Salzburg’s chances of getting a result depends on the amount of service Soriano gets inside the box where he can put Nice to the sword.
Jean Seri (OGC Nice) – It may seem strange to list a central midfielder as a “danger man”, but Seri has been vital to Nice’s success this season. Nice have become a much more counter-attacking team this season under Favre and Seri has shone in the new system.
Already possessing an outstanding work-rate, Seri has become a more attacking player and has become the link between defence and attack for Nice. Seri has also started to become a more creative outlet for Nice with his three assists being proof of that.
Nice’s worst performance of the season came against Schalke a match where Seri had a poor game, therefore, underlying his importance to Les Aiglons. If Nice are going to stay alive in this group, then Seri will almost certainly play a massive role in inspiring them to victory.
Both teams will be desperate for points and Salzburg’s home advantage should give them a slight advantage. However, I’m expecting Nice’s quality to shine through and give them a precious win which will keep them alive in Europe, and almost certainly put an end to Salzburg’s hopes of qualifying from the group stage.
Prediction: Red Bull Salzburg 1-2 Nice