UEFA Europa Conference League, Gameweek 5, 27/10/22
A crucial victory for OGC Nice and a fully deserved one. Despite being pegged back midway through the second half, they reached magnificently to take the three points. It was undoubtedly one of Nice’s best performances of the season, and not only does it drastically improve their chances of Europa Conference League progression, it also has the potential to launch their Ligue 1 campaign.
Partizan Belgrade came into the tie top of the group, but you wouldn’t have known by the wat they began the match. Whilst Marcin Bulka was forced into the first real save of the match, it was Nice who controlled the tempo of the game, and who created the most threatening openings.
The home side deservedly took the lead through Arsenal loanee Pépé, who pounced on a loose ball in the box and confidently curled home to open the scoring. Gaëtan Laborde almost doubled the lead soon after, but the Partizan goalkeeper was quick off his line and smothered the effort.
Laborde, who played the target man role to perfection the whole match, and was involved in every offensive phase, came close again early in the second half, but his shot was denied by the woodwork. In what looked like a turning point for Lucien Favre’s side, who have looked fluidity and control in matches all season, Nice imposed themselves, sustaining pressure and creating chances. Melvin Bard went close with a long-range effort, but Nice were made to pay for not killing the game.
In a carbon copy of Nice’s opener, Ricardo Gomes pounced on a loose ball in the box to curl past Marcin Bulka. Nice, however, looked superior throughout the match and their response to the leveller was immediate. Mario Lemina’s effort wrong-footed Aleksandar Popović and Nice’s lead was restored.
From there, Les Aiglons saw out the match to move top of their Europa Conference League group with one game left. However, Favre’s side will have to be wary. It is still within the realms of possibility that they are knocked out with a nasty tie against Köln awaiting them in the final gameweek.
OGC Nice player ratings v Partizan Belgrade:
Marcin Bulka – 6
Melvin Bard – 7 – The Frenchman has been in competition with Fulham loanee Joe Bryan this season, but he firmly made his case to start more often against Partizan. He was defensively competent, but it was in attack where he shone. He made multiple dangerous runs into the half-space channel, dragging players out of position, before exploring the gaps with passes to the overlapping winger. He perfectly understood and executed his role on the night.
Dante – 6
Pablo Rosario – 5
Youcef Atal – 6
Billal Brahimi – 4
Khéphren Thuram – 5
Mario Lemina – 6 – The scorer of an absolutely crucial goal, he once again showed his quality. His future at the club was uncertain over the summer, but his reaction has been impeccable and he has firmly re-established himself as a starter in Favre’s side.
Hicham Boudaoui – 7 – The most exciting player on the pitch. With an incredibly low centre of gravity, he has the ability to turn any player. He drew players towards him throughout the match before leaving them in his wake. He is appreciated by Favre, and tonight he showed why.
Gaëtan Laborde – 7 – The former Rennes man was an essential focal point for Nice. He linked the play well, whilst using his strength well on multiple occasions to hold the ball up and allow offensive reinforcements to arrive. This was a much stronger collective showing from Nice, but even in matches where this isn’t the case, he often stands out for all the right reasons, which is a testament to his quality and his incredibly quick adaption to life at the Allianz Riviera.
Nicolas Pépé – 8 – Scorer of the opener, he also punctuated the game with some key contributions. He only had one chance but he took it confidently. His interchanges are also becoming more refined and more effective. Confidence is starting to seep back into his game. In the short-term, that is a huge positive for Nice, and in the long-term, it could allow him a second chance at Arsenal and an opportunity to revive his Premier League career.
Others: Beka Beka (5), Mendy (5), Viti (N/A)
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