On Saturday afternoon OGC Nice travel to Monte Carlo to face AS Monaco in a first versus second battle in Ligue 1.
The home side are top on goal difference, but they are a mere 20 goals ahead of their opponents. To add that little bit of extra spice, this is the Cote d’Azur derby.
When the principality side were signing Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, the players were flown into Nice International airport and transported by helicopter to the millionaire’s playground.
Nice have always been seen as the poorer of the two sides, but now, with help from Chinese investors and a well-worked project, they have climbed up the table and transformed into title contenders.
— Ligue 1 Uber Eats (@Ligue1UberEats) January 30, 2017
The away side are not in form, winning just two of their last six games in the league. Swiss coach Lucien Favre has done an excellent job after taking over from Claude Puel, but if they want to keep pace at the top, they need to rediscover their earlier form.
Monaco are unbeaten in their last four games, and the 3-1 loss to Olympique Lyonnais was only their third defeat of the season. That winning run was stopped by Paris Saint-Germain, but you are never going to complain about gaining a point at the Parc des Princes.
READ MORE: OGC Nice – More than just Mario Balotelli
Monaco were able to rest a number of first-team players for their epic 5-4 Coupe de France Extra-Time win over FC Chambly on Wednesday, but they still have a couple of worries.
Bernardo Silva, so important to their success, should be able to shake off a knock and start. However, in Brazilian Gabriel Boschilia, with six goals in four starts, they have players very capable of playing in his place.
Coach Leonardo Jardim is worried about the effect the congested calendar is going to have on his team’s chances this season.
“I'm slightly astonished by the calendar. How is it possible to play a match on Wednesday and follow it with a big game on Saturday against Nice? He told media during Thursday’s press conference.
“By the end of February, we could have five or six more injured players. Teams involved in four competitions need protection. It isn't the first time this has happened.”
Nice will definitely be without right wing-back Ricardo Pereira. The Brazilian has been excellent this season, leading to the FC Porto loanee being linked with a move to Arsenal.
Arnaud Soquet should keep his place and would lead to Favre playing a back four, rather than the successful 3-5-2.
There are doubts over midfielders, Wylan Cyprien and Younes Belhanda. The latter trained on Wednesday and Favre admitted on Thursday that “it went well..” but said “We’ll see, but I think he will be there.”
Belhanda has three goals and three assists in 14 starts and has built up an excellent understanding with Mario Balotelli and Alassane Plea.
Monaco (4-4-2): Subasic – Sidibe, Glik, Jemerson, Mendy – Bernardo, Fabinho, Bakayoko, Lemar – Germain, Falcao
Nice (4-2-3-1): Cardinale – Souquet, Dante, Sarr, Dalbert – Koziello, Seri – Plea, Belhanda, Eysseric – Balotelli
Monaco have won three of the last five meetings, but overall, throughout history, it’s been a fairly balanced fixture.
In 111 games, Monaco have won 48 to Nice’s 32, however, at the Stade Louis II, the home side has the advantage.
Monaco have won 24 from 52 games and since 2004, Nice have just four victories in Monte Carlo.
The last one came in 2014 when a seventh minute Carlos Eduardo free-kick beat Danijel Subasic and was enough to win all three points.
To contrast the changes this Nice side have gone through, only Plea, who started that day, will start on Saturday.
Nice took all three points when the two sides met on Week Six, beating Monaco 4-0. This was before the Monegasque side become the free-scoring team that is terrorising Europe. Jardim tried to play down the prospect of getting their own back on Les Aiglons.
“The most important thing is always the next match. It's a derby, at home. We aim to do everything possible to win this game. It's not about revenge. Obviously we haven't forgot the game earlier in the season, but the most important thing is to take all three points.”
Players to watch
For Monaco, the vultures are already circiling around Tiemoue Bakayoko, Fabinho and Bernardo, but the fourth member of the midfield deserves a mention.
Bir de bu thomas lemar kaca satar acaba marsilya bunu pic.twitter.com/CsAY4bHuRa
— hacışakirinfeykii (@hacisakirinfeyk) January 21, 2017
Seven goals and four assists for the left-footed youngster, plus a goal at Wembley, highlights what he can provide. A danger from set-pieces and anywhere outside the box, he will be eager to see just how good Soquet is as Ricardo’s replacement.
Jean Michel Seri has taken over the midfield mantle from Nampalys Mendy after he joined Leicester City in the summer. He adds that physical presence, but has three goals and eight assists too. Mendy scored just once in 124 Ligue 1 fixtures.
Great vision, drive, determination, Seri has it all and is a force of nature in that Nice midfield. His battle with Bakayoko could be fascinating.
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) February 2, 2017
PSG v Monaco on Sunday was cagey and very tactical, the hope is, with the way these two sides play, it should be an open and attacking fixture.
Being at home, Monaco are the bookies favourite to win this game. They have the form, they are a goal-scoring machine, and with players missing from the OGCN back-line, you have to fancy ASM to pick up all three points.
It will be anything but a one-sided fixture, and an early goal for the away side will have their 2,000 visiting fans in full voice.
AS Monaco 2-1 OGC Nice