High-flying Nice host struggling rivals Marseille



Youcef Atal at a press conference in Cairo (Khaled DESOUKI)

Second-placed Nice welcome rivals Marseille to the Allianz Riviera on Saturday amid conflicting form for the two teams, though only four places separate them in the table.

Nice go into the encounter on the back of fine results and are thriving under new coach Francesco Farioli since his arrival in July. They boast four victories and one draw in their last five Ligue 1 outings.

A solid defence has been key for the Cote d’Azur side and goalkeeper Marcin Bulka, already twice voted the club’s player of the month this season, will have designs on a sixth clean sheet in nine appearances.

Marseille, on the other hand, have one win and two defeats in their last five, though they will be hoping new coach Gennaro Gattuso will ignite their season.

The side moved up to sixth place last time out with a 3-0 win against Le Havre, the first under Gattuso following the departure of Marcelino in September.

“Nice play differently with the ball compared to Le Havre, they have some quality players, and it’s no coincidence that they’re unbeaten this season,” said the Marseille coach in a press conference Thursday.

Both clubs have experienced turbulent starts to their respective seasons off the pitch. On Tuesday, Nice suspended defender Youcef Atal after he shared a video supposedly supporting Hamas.

“As athletes… we have a duty to send a strong message, a message of peace,” said Farioli when asked about the Atal affair during Thursday’s press conference.

As has been the case with recent fixtures between the two south coast sides, a ban on travelling support has been confirmed ahead of the traditionally fiery derby.

“The current national context, the local context with the Youcef Atal affair and the likelihood of pro-Palestinian demonstrations on Saturday make the timing impossible to welcome Marseille’s supporters adequately safely,” said the regional prefect Hugues Moutouh to local media.

Paris Saint-Germain host Strasbourg earlier on Saturday and will hope a rejuvenated Kylian Mbappe can continue the form that saw him score three goals for France during the international break.

The side from the capital lie two points behind leaders Monaco in third place and will hope to sit atop the pile for at least part of the weekend.

Current table-toppers Monaco play at home against struggling Metz on Sunday and the principality club will be expecting to make it three wins on the bounce.

Meanwhile 15th-placed Metz will be seeking to avoid a fourth straight defeat in what has been a tough return to life in the top flight this season.

One to watch: Dante

The Brazilian centre-back and captain of Nice celebrated his 40th birthday on Wednesday, but the leader of Farioli’s miserly defence is showing no signs of his age this season. With just four goals conceded in eight matches in the league, the Aigles’ defence is the envy of Europe.

Dante has played every minute of the Ligue 1 season and has been integral in Nice’s flying start. The left-footer has won 61 percent of his duels and only picked up one yellow card thus far in 720 minutes of football. Victory in the derby would be the cherry on the cake for this birthday week.

Key stats

57.3 – The percentage of Nice’s passes that have been played in their own half this season, the highest in the league.

417 – Marquinhos could become the player with the outright second-most appearances for PSG in all competitions if he features against Strasbourg on Saturday.

3 – Should Metz win at Monaco, they will have already equalled their away win record from their last Ligue 1 season (2021/22).

Fixtures (times GMT)

Friday

Le Havre v Lens (1900)

Saturday

Paris Saint-Germain v Strasbourg (1300), Nice v Marseille (1900)

Sunday

Lorient v Rennes (1100), Lille v Brest (1300), Nantes v Montpellier (1300), Toulouse v Reims (1300), Monaco v Metz (1505), Lyon v Clermont (1845)

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