After 13 matches Ligue 1 has an unfamiliar name at the top of the table – OGC Nice. Les Aiglons haven’t won the title in 57 years but the arrival of controversial Italian forward Mario Balotelli this summer could be the catalyst to change that record. Are they the surprise football bets for the French year?
How Nice have become France’s favourite football tips
Last season OGC Nice finished fourth in Ligue 1 and earned the right to play in European competition for the first time in 38 seasons. It was a great season for them, only conceding 16 league goals at home while ex-Newcastle man Hatem Ben Arfa scored 17 goals and provided 6 assists.
Ben Arfa had enjoyed an inconsistent spell in the Premier League and he came to the French Riviera needing to prove himself. His arrival coincided with a change in direction for the club and he quickly became an iconic figure not just for the club but the city itself. He only signed a year’s contract and it was inevitable that bigger clubs would come circling and there was no surprise when Ben Arfa left for the bright lights of Paris St-Germain, who had just clinched their fourth successive Ligue 1 title.
With Nampalys Mendys leaving in a £13million deal for Premier League Champions Leicester City, the summer window was vital for Nice and they bought well, bringing in midfielder Wylan Cyprien and turning Paul Baysse’s loan deal into a permanent one. However, the big capture of the window was to come on transfer deadline day.
The Balotelli Effect – from Outsiders to Favourites
No-one in the city of Nice quite believed that Mario Balotelli was going to come to the club. The arrival of the former Manchester City, Liverpool and Milan forward drove the city into a frenzy of hysteria. Like Ben Arfa before him, Balotelli had struggled in recent seasons to show his undoubted promise. Could the move to Nice reignite his footballing career?
Balotelli’s nine games so far for Nice have been eventful. Seven goals, including six in the league, five yellow cards and one red are par for the course for a forward who asked “Why always me?”
Nice’s 2-0 defeat to Schalke in Gelsenkirchen has meant that the Azurean side will not play in the knockout phase of the Europa League. Worse still, a training injury to Balotelli rules him out of their next three games including their weekend fixture against Bastia.
OGC Nice v Bastia Tactical Analysis
For many coaches the loss of a major player such as Balotelli would be an issue but Favre has already shown this season he’s willing to switch formations and players to get results. Nice have won games playing a 4-2-3-1 with Alassane Plea playing as a lone forward, a 3-5-2 with Younes Belhanda playing just behind Mario Balotelli and a 4-3-3 with Plea and Belhanda either side of Balotelli.
Younes Belhanda has been one of the most intriguing pieces in the jigsaw for Favre. The attacking midfielder has only scored one goal in his 15 games since signing on loan from Dynamo Kyiv. However, without Balotelli in the team the Moroccan will be an important attacking player in the upcoming weeks.
OGC Nice Tips and Free Bets
OGC are favourites to win the game at 1.65 against relegation-threatened Bastia – while over 2.5 goals at 2.13 also looks like good value. Do you think Younes Belhanda will fill a Mario Balotelli-sized hole in the Nice attack?