Nice and Lille: Now or never

Florent Balmont needs to contribute for Lille to be successful

Florent Balmont needs to contribute for Lille to be successful

I’m sure we can all talk about Marseille, but everyone knows what is going on there. I have written a number of times about the problems that I see with that program, but this week they are going to play away to a Nancy team that, if they win, could move ahead of Marseille in the standings.

I am going to talk about the lesser known teams. The teams that, if you follow Ligue 1, you expected to do better. But now, it seems like they are just hanging on by a string.

But before we go into those, lets talk about the teams that seem to have pulled their butts out of the first. After a very slow start to the year, AJ Auxerre now find themselves in 10th place.  They started the first four games without scoring a goal. But since then, their defense has only allowed one goal in four Ligue 1 matches. In their last matchup they beat an undefeated Rennes side. This week they take on Bordeaux at home. While a win is certainly a possibility after Bordeaux’s loss to St. Etienne last week, it isn’t likely. Still, the club that Guy Roux built seems to be back on track.

The other team that seems to have made a comeback is St. Etienne. Their last performance against Bordeaux showed that they have the skill to compete with the big boys. While Les Verts might not be a Europa Cup contender, they have vastly improved since the start of the season. And if anyone watched the Bordeaux game, St. Etienne didn’t win because they got lucky on a few plays. They actually pressured Bordeaux and earned the win. Les Vert were the best team on the pitch that day, by miles.

Now, for the slackers. There are a number of teams that started off the season sluggish and now it is time to see if they got what it takes to move forward.

First is Lille. With a team that looked poised to compete for an Europa League spot yet again, they started off in a horrible position. They started off the season with three losses, four draws and only one win. Now, with a string of draws and a win two weeks ago against Boulogne, there is still questions about if they can improve.

Lille has a first class side, though Pierre-Andre Frau seems to be the only scorer on the team. In the last four games, Frau has scored four goals. On the other hand, Robert Vittek, whom Lille relies on to be their top scorer, has produced little. He only has one goal on the season, yet he has had a number of chances in the seven games he has played this season.

Another problem for Lille is discipline. Two of their eight games they have played this season, they have had to play a man down. Also, key players, like Florent Balmont, have mulitple yellows this season. With one of their best players being cautioned constantly, Lille has to concentrate on getting the composure together and worry about scoring.

Basically, Balmont and Vittek need to put the ball in the net more and create more scoring opportunities.

The other team that has had a horrible season so far is Nice. Again, this was another team that people thought would have an outside chance at a Europa League spot. But now, they are just fighting to keep out of the relegation zone.

In the last few weeks, I have written about how I think that Loic Remy is the most, underrated player in Ligue 1. Unfortunately for Nice, he seems to be the only player out there showing the passion to win. In many of Nice’s games, Remy will be the only scorer.

But two weeks ago, Nice showed a change in they way they play. Against a resurgent Valencienne team, Nice spread the ball around nicely. Unlike the start of the year, where all plays pretty much ended up with the ball on Remy’s foot, NIce worked the left side of the pitch as well, involving their other striking threat, Chaouki Ben Saada. While not a regular fixture in the Nice starting eleven, Ben Saada is starting to show that he deserves that starting spot.

Another problem that Nice has is defense and goaltending. They have allowed 16 goals this season, and their defense has looked like Swiss cheese. It seems like their idea of a good defense is a good offense, which, until now, was only Loic Remy. Goaltender David Ospina hasn’t looked great, letting in some weak goals. I am honestly surprised that Nice hasn’t gone with former French international Lionel Letizi, who looked impressive in their match against Monaco a few weeks ago.

Still, on top of the poor play on the pitch, Nice has had to deal with off-the-pitch problems as well. After fans tried to charge him in the last home game, Chairman Maurice Cohen has left the team. There are questions about who will take his place on a permanent basis. Will new manager Didier Olle-Nicolle keep his job? Basically, it is a mess over there in Nice. The question is will they pull through? With a game at Lorient this weekend, it is hard to say yes.

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