With both Nice and Lazio having won their first two group game matches, the two duels between the clubs will almost certainly decide who tops the group and gains an advantage going into the round of 32.
For Lazio fans it’s been a wild 16 months. After the sacking of Stefano Pioli in April of 2016 Lazio youth coach Simone Inzaghi was appointed on interim basis. Simone who is the brother of the more well known Pippo Inzaghi was expected to make way for a new manager in the summer of 2016 and this seemingly went to plan when the enigmatic yet brilliant Marcelo Bielsa was hired as Lazio manager in July of 2016.
However, Bielsa shockingly resigned after just two days leaving Lazio in an impossible position. The Italian side quickly responded by reappointing Inzaghi as manager. After a successful 2016-2017 season in which they finished 5th in Serie A and runners up in the Coppa Italia, Inzaghi was handed a new three year contract with the view of challenging the likes of Juventus, Napoli, AS Roma, Inter Milan and AC Milan in the battle to finish in the top three.
This season, Lazio have continued their progress and surprised many by enjoying a superb start to their Serie A campaign. Lazio currently sit 3rd, and are fresh of the back of a hugely impressive 1-2 win at Juventus. Their success has been driven by a resurgent Ciro Immobile who has scored 41 goals since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2016. Lazio’s squad is a well built combination of experienced pros like Lucas Leiva and Marco Parolo and younger less known players such as Jordan Lukaku, Luis Alberto and Bastos. In addition, they possess one of the world’s best young midfielders in Sergej Milinkovic-Savic whose performance against Juventus last week received plaudits.
The season has started better then Lazio fans could have dreamed for, but maintaining momentum will be a challenge considering the depth competing in two competitions requires. So far this season, Inzaghi has opted to heavily rotate during Europa League matches but considering the importance of this match he might change his approach.
There was a feeling around Nice that they were beginning to erase their poor start to the season but this feeling has evaporated over the last couple of weeks as they’ve stumbled with two straight Ligue 1 defeats. With European qualification already looking unlikely, a long run in the Europa league might take priority to Ligue 1.
Nice are still without Wylan Cyprien due to the French Midfielder’s long term injury, while both Jean Michael Seri and Allan Saint Maximin are also missing from the 18 man squad. Lucien Favre has hinted that Wesley Sneijder could play a role and his inclusion might see the Swiss tactician move away from the 4-4-2 system he has preferred over the last couple of months.
Lazio have started the season playing a 3-5-2/3-4-2-1 system, and this should continue against Nice.
Vincent Koziello (OGC Nice) – During the 2015-2016 season, Koziello was heralded as one of Europe’s brightest talents, however, thanks to Wylan Cyprien’s emergence and Jean Michael Seri’s progression into one of the best midfielders in the world, Koziello has faded from the spotlight.
The young Frenchman was even benched for parts of last season in favour of Remi Walter. This season Koziello has regained his starting status but has retreated into a more supporting role. With Seri missing, much more creative responsibility will be placed on Koziello’s shoulders and Nice’s ability to break down Lazio will depend on whether he puts in a performance more reminiscent of his best form during the 2015-2016 season.
Luis Alberto (SS Lazio) – Labeled a flop at Liverpool, Alberto has rebounded in Italy and has emerged this season as one of Lazio’s most important players, playing as a second striker behind Ciro Immobile. The Spaniard has already surpassed the ten appearances he made for Lazio last season scored three goals and provided four assists in the Serie A so far this season. With Ciro Immobile playing as Lazio’s most advanced player, Alberto has become the creative hub for his team.
This was showcased in Lazio’s 4-1 demolition of AC Milan earlier this season during which Alberto scored and assisted Immobile who scored a hattrick. The Italian striker is likely to be rested against Nice which means even more attacking responsibility will be placed on Alberto. If he continues his early season form, then Lazio will be in a good position for a group topping victory.
Nice are in poor form and with Lazio playing such impressive football, I can’t see Les Aiglons ending up with all three points. I expect an entertaining game which will end in a draw, setting up a tantalizing fixture in Rome.