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Nice look to find way out of alarming slump

Nice face Lens this weekend in Ligue 1. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Nice sat second in the Ligue 1 table at the season’s halfway stage, but a dramatic drop-off in form since the turn of the year has left them at risk of failing to qualify for Europe.

The Cote d’Azur side’s slump in 2024 has been as remarkable as their results were impressive in the final four months of last year, when they were the main challengers to Paris Saint-Germain in France’s top flight.

Surely just by coincidence, their results began to crumble at around the same time British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe bought a 25 percent stake in Manchester United.

That deal saw Ratcliffe’s company Ineos take control of football operations at Old Trafford, leading to inevitable questions about their commitment to Nice, a club they also own.

Nice appointed the 34-year-old Italian Francesco Farioli as coach ahead of this season in a surprise move, given his only previous experience in managing in his own right had come in two short spells at clubs in Turkey.

Yet Nice started the season in superb fashion, going unbeaten through their first 13 matches including beating PSG 3-2 away, and conceding only four goals in that time.

However, they were struggling to score goals throughout that period, and a 1-0 defeat at Nantes in early December marked the start of their downturn.

Nice have won just three of their last 12 games in Ligue 1 and have collected just two points from the last 18 available.

As a result, they have gone from apparent certainties to qualify for the Champions League, to sixth in the table, two points adrift of the top four and of fifth-placed Lens, who they face away from home on Saturday.

They are also just a point better off than a resurgent Marseille, meaning they are at risk of dropping out of the top six and missing out on Europe entirely.

Tensions almost spilled over last weekend, as defender Jean-Clair Todibo confronted supporters after a 2-1 home defeat by Montpellier.

And in midweek Nice were knocked out of the French Cup in a 3-1 quarter-final loss away to PSG, ending their hopes of silverware.

“It is a difficult time. We need to stick together and get back the harmony that was our strength before,” said Farioli, a former assistant to Roberto De Zerbi, after last week’s game.

“We are really going through a hard time but I don’t think we have lost our way.”

He was much happier with his team’s display in defeat in Paris in midweek, despite a nasty facial injury to outstanding Polish goalkeeper Marcin Bulka.

“I think his nose is broken. We hope he recovers as quickly as possible,” said Farioli, who will want Bulka patched up in time to face Lens.

Player to watch: Jonathan David

Lille’s Canadian international striker is in a rich vein of form as he aims to fire his club to Champions League qualification, and seal a big-money transfer at the end of the season.

The 24-year-old, who helped Lille win the title in 2021 in his first campaign in France, scored 26 goals last season and was widely tipped to move to a bigger club last summer.

That move never transpired, and David netted only twice in the first 12 league games this season. But he has exploded into life since then, with 12 in the last 13.

That left him on 21 in all competitions before Lille’s European tie against Sturm Graz on Thursday and their key trip to Brest on Sunday, which sees second host fourth in the table.

Standings provided by Sofascore

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