Nice, a Mediterranean city on the east coast of France is a tourist spot known for its balmy weather and picturesque surroundings. The city is called Nice la Belle, which means ‘Nice The Beautiful’. No wonder itai??i??s the second most popular city among tourists in France, behind Paris. The area of todayai??i??s Nice is believed to be amongst the oldest human settlements in Europe. For OGCai??i??s local football club, OGC Nice, success has been an ai???oldai??? companion.

Rise and Fall

One of the powerhouses of French football in the 1950ai??i??s, Nice won the Ligue 1 title 4 times in that decade (1951, 1952, 1956,1959). Since then, the club has rarely made a mark in the top division of French football let alone making a championship tilt. Finishing most of their seasons in the mid table, they sporadically flirted with relegation, got relegated and then got promoted, oscillating between the top 2 divisions of French football. All along, they were rarely in contention for silverware, with the Coupe De France triumph in 1997 proving to be an anomaly. Financial irregularities also meant they were relegated to the 3rd division of French Football in 2004. Having clawed their way back to the 1st division in 2005, theyai??i??ve never finished in the top half of the table since 2006 and have since been involved in their fair share of relegation battles too.

Puel: A Step Down?

Ligue 1

Claude Puel: The Nice job was considered a step down for Puel

For a club seemingly content with mid-table safety, the dismissal of RenAi?? Marsiglia at the start of the season and the subsequent appointment of Claude Puel was considered a brave move. After all, Marsiglia had saved Nice from relegation in the previous season. Appointing Puel too was considered a coup of sorts. Puel had done stellar work at Lille from 2002 to 2008, laying the foundations for their now solid standing as a club. His reputation, though, had taken a beating during his 4-year trophy-less spell at Lyon where he is reviled for making many big-name signings which placed a huge burden on the clubai??i??s wage bill. Though he guided them to a Champions League semifinal in 2009 and his team gave a good account of itself in European competitions, his managerial stint at Lyon was something of a disappointment.

For Puel too, accepting the job at Nice was considered something of a step down. Niceai??i??s activity in the transfer market showed little sign of ambition as they bought a couple of young players from lower division sides and also sold Anthony Mounier to Montpellier. Though they moved into a new stadium, The Allianz Riveira, it seemed nothing would change. Twenty one games into the season, Nice are in 4th place in Ligue 1, behind powerhouses PSG, Lyon and Marseille. Niceai??i??s 2-0 win at Puelai??i??s previous club Lille has seen them firmly in contention for European spots, where their opponents- in 10th place-were expected to be.

Terrific at home

Nice are one of the form teams of France. Their latest win means they are only behind PSG and Lyon in terms of the number of points gained in the last 6 games(13; Lyon:13 and PSG:16). Their home form has been even more devastating with 6 wins in the last 6 games, including a 5-0 thrashing of Valencienness and a 2-1 win over PSG. In fact, theyai??i??ve garnered a total of 24 points from 11 home games, making them the 2nd best home side in Ligue 1; Lyon are the best with 26 points. Considering their poor away form (11 points from 10 games), it seems as if Nice like the comfort of home conditions. That is precisely the reason why this 2-0 away win at Lille could be significant.

At home, Nice are adept at keeping possession, but theyai??i??ve struggled, understandably, to replicate the same in the away games. Here, they defended resolutely and as the home side committed men forward in search of a goal, they hit them on the counter – the first goal coming from a free kick that came from a counter attack and the second from open play. The win showed that the young side was maturing and adapting.

Contrast this with the start of the season, when they accumulated a mere 9 points from the first 10 games, winning a solitary game (in their 5th game of the season) and looking relegation fodder. Theyai??i??ve since won 8 of 11 league games, sparking a dramatic turnaround. And as you would expect, the personnel playing pivotal roles for Nice are little-known players who are thriving under Puel. A young side with 17 of the 25-man squad under 26, they are quite an exciting side to watch – especially at home as they line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Blend of youth and experience

Ligue 1

Dario Cvitanich: Prolific for Nice with 12 goals in Ligue 1 and 14 in all competitions.

Argentinian striker Dario Cvitanich provides the firepower in attack, with the 28-year old enjoying a prolific season following his move in summer from Ajax. He has 12 goals to his name in the league and is the second top scorer of Ligue 1, behind Ibrahimovic. He is also the second highest goal scoring Argentinian in 2012-13 only behind Messi. Didier Digard, Niceai??i??s captain is also enjoying a productive season, the former Middlesbrough man putting his injury worries aside and excelling in his role as a defensive midfielder.

Eric Bauthec, signed on a free transfer from Dijon, has been impressive on the left side of midfield, showing a remarkable level of consistency. Equally impressive has been the performances of left-back TimothAi??e Kolodziejczak, 21, who was found surplus to requirements at Lyon and subsequently moved to Nice on a free transfer in the summer. Another player who has caught the eye with a string of impressive performances is Valentin Eysseric, who made his loan move from Monaco permanent. A balanced, composed and a technical midfielder, Eysseric has excelled in the No.10 role, playing behind Cvitanich.

Renato Civelli adds a dash of experience to this side, with the 29-year old Argentinian central defender chipping in with important goals. Civelli broke the deadlock against Lille with a thumping header in the 77th minute from a free kick. That the clinching goal in the game was scored by a 16-year old Neal Maupay (his second goal in 2 games and 2 goals with 2 shots on target) tells you all about this Nice side. Itai??i??s a young side with a handful of experienced players thrown into the mix and one that has found a winning formula under Puel.

While it has to be seen if Nice can continue this impressive run of results, theyai??i??ve already provided us with the story of the season: A team constructed on a shoe-string budget rubbing shoulders with the whoai??i??s-who of Ligue 1.

****

Written by Guest Author Chaitanya Lakkapragada

Follow the author on Twitter: @chaitugooner

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