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20.10.2020Europa League

Our next opponents: The star is on the touchline

The curtain is raised as Bayer 04 step onto the European stage for the first time this season. The first opponents in the Europa League group stage are OGC Nice on Thursday 22 October (kick-off: 18.55 CEST). A tough challenge for starters as the French side have several big players in addition to their star coach.
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Position

The Olympique Gymnastic Club have made a good start to the season. On Sunday evening, the club from the south of France secured a comfortable 3-1 away win against the team under former coach Claude Puel, AS St. Etienne. “It was a very good collective performance, above all in the first half hour,” declared a happy head coach Patrick Vieira. His team took a 2-0 lead with goals from Pierre Lees Melou and Amine Gouiri. Nice had to worry about the three points following a mistake by keeper Walter Benitez but, according to Vieira , “we were never really in danger.” Substitute Myziane Maolida rounded off the scoring in added time. Nice are currently in fourth place in Ligue 1 with four wins, one draw and two defeats. “Our points return is good,”said Vieira, “but over the long term it’s our style of play that will decide if we can compete at the top or not.” Last season, OGC had little prospect of a Champions League finish when the season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic but they did qualify for the Europa League as the team in sixth place and are now in the group stage of the competition for the third time.

Personnel

The biggest star of the team is on the touchline. The former world-class player Vieira, who won the World Cup and European Championships with France plus the Champions League with Inter Milan, took over from Lucien Favre in 2018 when he left for Borussia Dortmund. Initially very much focused on defensive stability, he has been able to turn his side into a dominant team that can press hard during his period in charge. Vieira is not the only one to have won the Champions League. His captain has also been able to hold the trophy aloft – and he should be a familiar face to Werkself fans: The Brazilian Dante, who played in the Bundesliga for Borussia Mönchengladbach, FC Bayern as well as Wolfsburg and was a treble winner with FCB in 2013, has played for Nice since 2016 and he is an uncompromising defender, leader – and goalscorer. The central defender has already scored two goals with his head in seven league games this term. In Sunday’s 3-1 win against St. Etienne, Dante did not celebrate scoring but he was able to celebrate being 37. Even in his advanced years as a footballer, the Werkself will have to be aware of him at set-pieces.

The same also applies – but not just with dead balls – to the two attackers Amine Gouiri and Kasper Dolberg. The 20-year-old Gouiri, signed in the summer from Olympique Lyon, has made a flying start with three goals and two assists with the Denmark striker Dolberg, the marquee signing of last year, also finding the back of the net twice. However, Dolberg missed the game at St. Etienne due to an injury he picked up with Denmark. There is a question mark over his availability for the game against Bayer 04.

Performers

Nice have strengthened impressively in the summer in Vieira’s former position. In Morgan Schneiderlin, formerly a Europa League winner with Manchester United and recently under contract at Everton, the team have acquired a lot of experience in the central midfield – and in Jeff Reine-Adélaïde they also have one of the most promising talents in the country. The 22-year-old was the target of one or two Bundesliga clubs in the summer but he ended up joining Nice on loan from Olympique Lyon – a real coup for the South of France club. Reine-Adélaïde has yet to play for Nice but Vieira is expecting him to return from injury “in the middle of the week.” Will he make his debut against the Werkself? That’s debatable. What is clear is that he could form an impressive midfield pairing with Schneiderlin.

ProblemS

Nice have had problems this season, above all when the opposition play over the OGC pressing line and are able to run at the defence at pace. That was evident in a 3-0 defeat against Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain when Vieira’s team were unable to deal with Kylian Mbappé as well as at St. Etienne on Sunday. After the hosts brought on their pacey winger Denis Bouanga, “he causesd lots of problems,” said Vieira. It will be interesting to see if the coach sticks with the system from the game against St. Etienne-Spiel or whether he will spring a surprise with a back three – for the first time this season.

Prediction

Vieira is confident ahead of his first game on the European stage as the Nice coach. “We have a team where we can be ambitious in Europe,” he said – and he may be right. The quality of the squad improved again in the summer and the mix between internationally experienced players and young talents is just right. On paper, Nice could be the toughest opponents in the group for the Werkself – a real test right at the start.

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