Fans of Nice may not have realised it, but this weekend could be a crucial point of their roller-coaster season. Sitting third in Ligue 1, they take on Nantes on Saturday evening and nothing but three points will suffice.
Over 24 hours later, Paris Saint-Germain take on Olympique Lyonnais at the Parc des Princes and for Lucien Favre’s team, this a chance they can’t mess up.
Regardless of the result, three points for Les Aiglons helps them move closer to a place in the UEFA Champions League.
PSG are just two points ahead, with the Parisians hurting from the mesmerising 6-1 defeat to Barcelona, they will need to pick themselves off the canvas for what is one of the toughest fixtures in the season.
Keeping Lyon at arms’ length
Lyon are flying, but they have to negotiate a tough trip to Rome in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, holding a 4-2 first-leg win over Roma.
No club would want these two fixtures together, especially as they need all the momentum they can muster – trying to reduce the 13 points gap between them and Nice. OL have a game in hand, but that could be wiped out if they lose in the French capital.
16 points, with eight games to go, would be almost impossible.
Nice won’t find it easy though. The squad of players that started the season off so well has been ravaged by injuries and upset and sadly it continued last week in the 2-2 draw with Caen.
With eight goals and three assists, 22-year-old Wylan Cyprien has been an amazing part of Nice’s story this term. After joining from RC Lens in the summer, the central midfielder has taken to life at the top of Ligue 1 like a fish to water.
Big blow losing Cyprien
Just before the hour mark, with his team 2-0 down at home, Cyprien landed awkwardly to an aerial battle and his knee bent all the wrong way and he had to leave the pitch.
Wylan Cyprien's horror injury suffered tonight v Caen (warning: it is not pretty ??) pic.twitter.com/S0cneWXCro
— Mohammed Ali (@mohammedali_93) March 10, 2017
Influential in every part of their game, Cyprien makes 1.1 tackles and 0.8 clearances, he attempts 71.8 passes per games – second in the team, 0.9 key passes, 1.9 successful dribbles and 1.8 shots per game.
“After tests conducted on Saturday, the final verdict has been delivered: Wylan Cyprien has suffered a ruptured anterior crucial ligament.,” the club’s official website wrote on Saturday. ‘The 22-year-old midfielder will be unavailable for the rest of the season.”
Similar types of injury have seen players miss between four and eight months, suggesting that there is a very good chance that we won’t see the midfielder back to full fitness until 2018.
His performances have earmarked him as a summer transfer target for Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United.
They will all have to wait though and there is very little chance that he will be transferred anywhere this summer.
If the young talent can rediscover the fitness and same level of quality that has been so amazing to watch this term, that must be the only silver lining for Nice.
Unlike Monaco, who are riding high in both the league and the Champions League and have managed to keep a core of 12-14 players fit and playing well. Cyprien is the second long-term injury that Nice have suffered.
It never rains but it pours for Nice
— Socio Football (@sociofootball) February 21, 2017
Against Rennes in February, the club’s top scorer, Alassane Pléa, previously linked with Southampton and West Ham, fell to the floor under a challenge. He tries to shake off the knock, but the damage to his ankle his too significant. The 24-year-old, with 11 goals in 22 starts, will also miss the rest of the season.
When you add in the injury struggles to right wing-back Ricardo Pereira, who hasn’t featured since January and Mario Balotelli, predictably throwing his toys out of the pram, Nice are hitting a lot of road bumps at the worse possible stage.
The Italian striker started and scored against Caen, but no out-field player saw less of the ball than he did, getting himself in the right place and the right time for his goal – a back post tap in.
"I thought Ligue 1 would be easier."
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) March 16, 2017
Nice are going to need more than that, bringing back the influence he showed at the start of his time in the south of France, if they are going hold up to their position.
Favre’s biggest problem is that outside of the former Manchester City forward, there are no other real leading options. 20-year-old Greek forward Anastasios Donis scored the equaliser against Caen, but he has started just one game.
Les Aiglons lack of attacking options
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) March 16, 2017
Mickael Le Bihan, who wonderfully scored twice against Montpellier on his first game back after 17 months out through injury, has yet to start. Balotelli must lead the line.
If this weekend goes against Nice, and Lyon can close the gap, things could take a bad turn and don’t expect Balotelli to puff his chest out and ready himself for a fight.
With the players Nice are missing, they need to take advantage of this situation and secure that third spot as soon as possible.
If not, this season could find Nice in choppy waters and the dream could quickly become a nightmare.