For years, Nîmes Olympique has been angling for a seat at the big table. Now that they have it, they are struggling to retain it, but the third Olympique in Ligue 1 has shown it can stand up to giants.
Nîmes experienced a strong start to the Ligue 1 season, including a 3-1 victory over Olympique Marseille. Since then, Nîmes’ progress has stalled, and after a winless run, they are flirting with relegation.
And that sounds like a problem that Olympique Lyonnais could fix.
Friday, October 19th, 2018
Parc OL, Lyon
2:45 PM EST (20:45 CET, 19:45 UST)
It had been 26 long years since their last top-flight adventure, but finally, Nîmes is back on top. The Crocodiles pipped second spot from Ajaccio in the last few weeks of Ligue 2 football, winning promotion and doing all of France a great service. Things have not gone as they would have liked, but the new Ligue 1 outfit has shown glimpses of previous grandeur.
The Nîmois started off the season in great form, scoring seven goals in two games for two victories, including one against Olympique Marseille. That victory is the last they have recorded so far, but it did show the club’s fighting spirit and later on, a crippling insecurity.
On Friday, it will mark two months since Nîmes’ last win, but that does not mean it will be a walk in the park for Olympique Lyonnais. Following their Marseille fixture, Nîmes gave Paris Saint-Germain a run for their money, conceding just four, unlike a certain other Olympique. Subsequently, they earned draws against Girondins de Bordeaux and AS Monaco before the wheels started to go off.
Authors of an unremarkable transfer window, Nîmes find themselves with the second worst defensive record but the sixth best offense. The brilliant strikeforce is a narrative that follows last season’s campaign. Nonetheless, Bernard Blaquart’s men have failed to find the back of the net for three consecutive games.
The troubles could be down to the fact that no single striker has managed to distinguish himself. Blaquart has often favored the 4-4-2 formation this season, regardless of the opposition. Baptiste Guillaume, who signed this summer, has been the only constant up front, with Clément Depres, Renaud Ripart and Umut Bozok pairing up with him in recent times. This time, though, Guillaume won’t be available, which means even less consistency for Blaquart.
Bozok will likely be a familiar name with OL fans, and that is because the Turkish youngster has previously admitted he finds the possibility of playing for Olympique Lyonnais seducing. This season, Bozok has so far failed to replicate last season’s performances that saw him end up Ligue 2’s top scorer with 24 goals, and has only scored a single goal.
It is a wounded beast that travels to the Parc OL on Friday, but Nîmes have reason to believe. After all, a giant slayer, a relegation candidate, and a poor form sound like the Deathly Hallows to fearful Lyon fans.
Nîmes’ group: Bernardoni, Valette – Alakouch, Briançon, Harek, Miguel, Paquiez – Bobichon, Hsissane, Maouassa, Savanier, Valls – Alioui, Bouanga, Bozok, Depres, Ripart, Thioub
For once, Lyon had reason to look forward to the international break. Following a devastating drubbing at the hands of PSG, les Gones are in need of points if they are to stay in touch with the podium. And in a throwback to five years ago, the situation is exacerbated by unavailabilities for Bruno Genesio.
Only Lyon could have three right-backs in the squad, and somehow still fail to field a single one. That’s right – Kenny Tete is still out with injury, Rafael is nursing a knock from the PSG game, and Leo Dubois picked up an injury during a recent training session. But hey, at least Genesio won’t have to decide how to fit three right-backs into his game plan.
In midfield, Lucas Tousart will be serving his one-game suspension after getting sent off against PSG. If the French maxim of jamais deux sans trois holds true, then the youngster’s third consecutive red card will potentially have to wait one more week. Up front, more woes await Genesio.
Nabil Fekir is still unavailable for three games due to an ankle injury he picked up against PSG. Likewise, Maxwel Cornet‘s ankle is giving him trouble, and although nothing is wrong with Bertrand Traoré – apart from his sporadic shows of talent, naturally – he returned to Lyon on Thursday, which means he likely won’t start.
Thankfully, Martin Terrier is back, as are a slew of exciting young talents. Oumar Solet, Maxence Caqueret, Ousseynou Ndiaye and Lenny Pintor all feature in the group to make up for the various absentees. We don’t know what we did to deserve their call-ups, but we’ll take it!
Yet more importantly than who plays is how Lyon plays. Genesio has already anticipated facing a low defensive bloc against the promoted Nîmes side. Under his tenure, Lyon has struggled to make much magic happen against defensive sides, but it’s in the team’s interest to change things around.
Lyon’s group: Lopes, Gorgelin – Morel, Denayer, Marcelo, Solet, Mendy, Marçal – Aouar, Ferri, Ndombélé, Diop, Caqueret, Ndiaye – Memphis, Traoré, Terrier, Dembélé, Pintor
There’s not much to choose from, which will likely make Genesio’s job of picking a side a tad easier. According to L’Equipe, the Frenchman could opt for 4-2-3-1 formation, though an attacking 4-3-3 cannot be excluded.
Moussa Dembélé could start in front, flanked by Memphis and Terrier, with Houssem Aouar behind him. The pivotal roles will be given to Pape Cheikh Diop and Tanguy Ndombélé, who just celebrated his first international call-ups with France.
In the back is where things will turn towards improvisation. In spite of injuries at the right-back position, Ferland Mendy is touted to stick to the left. To compensate, Jason Denayer will likely move to right-back, which means that Jeremy Morel and Marcelo could re-unite in the middle.
Denayer – Marcelo – Morel – Mendy
Ndombele – Diop
Terrier – Aouar – Memphis
The team will also be aware that they travel to Germany in mid-week for the Champions League clash against Hoffenheim. Hopefully, neither lack of attention nor youthful inexperience will turn out to be this week’s excuse. Not again.
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Goals are to be expected, but from which side is anyone’s guess. The poor record and the long list of unavailabilities won’t help, but Lyon roars to life when its back is against the wall. I expect OL to score early and set the tone for the rest of the match: 3-1.