OGC Nice: December 2020

Last time out in November we had enlisted the help of our good friend FMRensie to sort out Nice’s set piece options. The arrangement proved very worthwhile as we began to see the early signs of success from the new routines. After some discussion, FMRensie agreed to continue with us as a trusted advisor on an ongoing basis.

December was set to be our busiest month of the season so far with a full seven games on the calendar. We were buoyed by consecutive victories however faced a hammer blow in that victory over Bordeaux when Kasper Dolberg picked up a knee injury which would keep him sidelined for the next three months. With the transfer window a full month away and a serious lack of alternative in the forward department, it forced a serious tactical rethink.

A move to faux strikerless?

Cast your mind back to Euro 2012 and the success Spain achieved by adopting a faux strikerless approach. If we don’t have a natural striker then we go strikerless. However, this does not mean that the ST slot becomes redundant. We looked to build a ‘strikerless’ system utilising a False Nine to drop deeper and link up with the midfield and wide men.

  • Our AP-A in the central midfield slot becomes a CM-A to encourage more penetration from the deeper area;
  • We adopt a WB-A on the left of the defence and the more conservative FB-S on the right hand side;
  • We go narrow in attack to encourage the wide men to play closer to the F9 and central midfielders.

December begins with our away Europa League tie against Sporting CP before a return to home and domestic football against Dijon FCO. Staying at home, we’ll complete our European group campaign against Spain’s Real Sociedad. On our travels next, we face Strasbourg before facing a strong Lyon side who are mounting an early title challenge. We finish the calendar year with consecutive away games against a Reims side that are defying all expectations in the league and FC Nantes.

Tactic: It’s the debut of our new faux strikerless approach, a baptism of fire for the untested set up.

Starting XI: Walter Benítez; Jordan Lotomba, Róbson Bambu, Stanley Nsoki, Hassane Kamara; Morgan Schneiderlin, Danilo, Hicham Boudaoui; Myziane Maolida, Rony Lopes, Amine Gouiri

Subs: Jeff Reine-Adélaïde & Youcef Atal (for Danilo and Myziane Maolida, 78 mins)

Amine Gouiri was the man given the nod to play the new False Nine role, largely because he was of only two players other than Dolberg who had some form of familiarity with the ST role.

It was a familiar start to the game from Nice, dominating the play in build up but failing to find anything of use in the final third.

And yet with just ten minutes gone, the players failed FMRensie on their defensive corner responsibilities. Sebastian Coates headed the ball back across goal from an inswinger and Sporar was found in acres of space to tap home the opener. As minute 33 appeared we issued the ‘Berate’ touchline to Rony Lopes, a man we were quickly losing patience with – the mercurial wide man responded by blasting the ball into the back of the net from 18 yards. Bravo, Rony.

We were level for merely two minutes of play when Sporting found themselves with a corner again. Joao Palhinha managed to get a run on his marker and headed Sporting in front once again. Somehow our team had managed to forget everything they’d been taught about defending set pieces. Sporting grabbed their third in the second half from an unstoppable Nuno Santos volley, the winger was left inexplicably unmarked as our right back Jordan Lotomba had some how found his way to the left wing. The game was dead and buried in the 87th minute when Matheus Nunes headed in from a Pedro Porro cross.

Talking Points:

  • Despite being in control for large periods of the game, we succumbed to a 4-1 loss away at Sporting.
  • Qualification from Group K remains on a knife edge with OGC Nice now needing a win at home Vs Real Sociedad.

Tactic: We stick with the FMG Faux Strikerless, there were plenty of positives to take from the last match despite our defence’s ineptitude at marking in that previous 90 minutes.

Starting XI: Walter Benítez; Youcef Atal, Róbson Bambu, Stanley Nsoki, Hassane Kamara; Morgan Schneiderlin, Danilo, Hicham Boudaoui; Myziane Maolida, Rony Lopes; Amine Gouiri

Subs: Racine Coly (for Hassane Kamara, 45mins), Jeff Reine-Adélaïde (for Myziane Maolida, 70 mins), Pierre Lees-Melou (for Hicham Boudaoui, 84 mins)

The only change to the starting eleven is Youcef Atal in place of Jordan Lotomba after his mid-match walkabouts in Portugal.

Once again we dominated the play, creating lovely passing patterns all over the pitch. Once again, we just lacked that final spark in the crucial moments. The goal was decided by a solitary goal and it was one straight from the FMRensie playbook as Rony Lopes’ corner found Stanley Nsoki at the near post to head us the victory. It feels like some just payback for our set piece consultant after the aberrations against Sporting.

Stanley Nsoki had the ball in the back of the net again in the second half, a neat sidefoot finish from a Rony Lopes free kick from deep. Upon review, Stanley had strayed marginally offside and the goal was disallowed. VAR denying us this beautiful moment.

Rony Lopes collected a player of the match award, largely thanks to his consistency in set piece delivery. Might he just be starting to win us back over?

Talking Points:

  • Stanley is a threat at set pieces.  Not only highlighted in the goal, but several set pieces too.  We should keep him here, even when Dolberg comes back.

Tactic: We keep faith with the process and the FMG Faux Strikerless rides again.

Starting XI: Walter Benítez; Youcef Atal, Róbson Bambu, Stanley Nsoki, Hassane Kamara; Morgan Schneiderlin, Danilo, Hicham Boudaoui; Myziane Maolida, Rony Lopes; Amine Gouiri

Subs: Jeff Reine-Adélaïde (for Danilo, 81 mins)

We were three points behind our Spanish opponents as we sat in third place. Our previous match up had been a scoreless draw so the requirement was simple: all we had to do was beat Sociedad at home to progress.

Sadly, what is easily said is not always as easily done. Sociedad had the better of the possession with 60% of the ball over 90 minutes. Despite their dominance on the ball, there weren’t too many clear cut chances for the visitors that came to mind. Rony Lopes’ renaissance had been short lived as the Portuguese failed to make any significant impact on the game. We tinkered with the tactics but couldn’t find the breakthrough.

Defensively we were very impressive, Nsoki and Bambu complement each other very well despite their combined age of just 44 years old – that’s just 7 years older than one Dante.

Unfortunately our European dream fizzles out to an end with a scoreless draw.

Talking Points:

  • Our defence was amazing, but so was Real Sociedad’s.  We’ve played out two 0-0s now and neither side wanted to progress, but sadly it was the Spanish.
  • Rony Lopes was awful.  We really need to re-think his role in the side…he should be much better than this.
  • We dropped F9 for DLF, before ending on AF.  Neither role had any danger, Gouiri is struggling as the ST.

Tactic: Having learnt a fair bit over the last few games, we’ve tweaked the faux strikerless system. The midfield line up is simplified to a Support-Attack-Defend set up. We’ve dropped the False Nine for an Advanced Forward – we are strikering again!

Starting XI: Walter Benítez; Youcef Atal, Róbson Bambu, Stanley Nsoki, Hassane Kamara; Danilo, Pierre Lees-Melou, Hicham Boudaoui; Alexis Claude-Maurice, Rony Lopes; Amine Gouiri

Subs: Jeff Reine-Adélaïde, Racine Coly & Khephren Thuram (for Rony Lopes, Hassane Kamara and Danilo, 69 mins)

The underperforming Morgan Schneiderlin drops to the bench as Pierre Lees-Melou steps in, Danilo moving to the MCR spot. Alexis Claude-Maurice replaces the injured Myziane Maolida.

Alexis Claude-Maurice (ACM from here) needed only 6 minutes to prove his worth, getting on the end of a Hassane Kamara cross to open the scoring early on. Nice’s lead was doubled just 3 minutes later as ACM led a breakaway move and played Gouiri in behind the Strasbourg defence, Gouiri making no mistake in his well placed finish.

13 minutes gone and Nice had a 3-0 lead, another win for the set pieces as Pierre Lees-Melou is the free man on the edge of the box to strike goalward. With 17 minutes on the clock, Stanley Nsoki made it 4-0 as he headed in from a Rony Lopes corner – OGC Nice in dreamland!

Strasbourg hit back a minute later as Adrien Thomasson found himself with a small pocket in space in the box from a Ludovic Ajorque knock down, the midfielder volleying into the top corner. Strasbourg reduced the deficit further in the second half when a Robert Snodgrass (yes…) freekick was headed in from the penalty spot by Kenny Lala.

Talking Points:

  • Traditional CM roles in a higher line.  Starting with an AF and it all looked better.
  • A lovely first 20 mins saw us run riot against lowly Strasbourg, scoring 4 goals!  It all seemed to be gelling nicely until we inexcusably took our foot off the pedal.
  • It finished 4-2 but it’s another Jekyll & Hyde performance.  However, three league wins won in a row now and we’re in the top half!

Tactic: We run as before, making decisions not to change a winning tactic despite the second half drop in performances.

Starting XI: Walter Benítez; Youcef Atal, Róbson Bambu, Stanley Nsoki, Racine Coly; Danilo, Pierre Lees-Melou, Hicham Boudaoui; Alexis Claude-Maurice, Rony Lopes; Amine Gouiri

Subs: Myziane Maolida (for Rony Lopes, 45 mins), Hassane Kamara (for Racine Coly, 67 mins), Jeff Reine-Adélaïde (for Pierre Lees-Melou, 71 mins), Jordan Lotomba (for Youcef Atal, 86 mins), Morgan Schneiderlin (for Hicham Boudaoui, 89 mins)

The only change to the starting line up was Racine Coly replacing Hassane Kamara, the left back was not quite 100% after a busy spell of games.

With FMGrasshopper and FMRensie unavailable due to personal commitments, it was fmadventure left to go it alone on this one. Lyon were chasing PSG at the top and had the best defensive record in the league – it wasn’t going to be an easy game.

Despite the obvious mismatch in season performances so far, it was a fairly even game. Both sides having a few opportunities but the defences standing strong. Lyon did have the ball in the back of the net on 85 minutes when defender Marcelo managed to get on the end of a freekick from deep but it was disallowed for an obvious offside.

We edged possession with 56% and fully deserved our point from this one.

Talking Points:

  • We looked defensively solid, Stanley and Bambu are beginning to form an impressive partnership at the back. 
  • Once again, the build up play was fantastic. Gouiri ran his heart out but we miss a natural striker in the side while Dolberg is out. 
  • The lone management experience was not enjoyable

Tactic: We stick with the latest tactical iteration. It has served us well so far.

Starting XI: Walter Benítez; Youcef Atal, Róbson Bambu, Stanley Nsoki, Hassane Kamara; Danilo, Pierre Lees-Melou, Hicham Boudaoui; Alexis Claude-Maurice, Myziane Maolida; Amine Gouiri

Subs: Morgan Schneiderlin (for Pierre Lees-Melou, 62 mins)

Stade de Reims are having a superb season, riding high in 5th position and pushing for a European qualification spot. We go with largely a settled side, one notable change being Myziane Maolida replacing Rony Lopes – he’s just not doing it often enough for us.

It took just 3 minutes for Reims to find an opener. Mathieu Valbuena received the ball 40 yards from goal and sent Youcef Atal in all directions as he bore down on goal. Valbuena twisted his hips and curled a side footed finish into the net in an animation so impressive that we had never seen it before in FM. Truly impressive, sadly.

Things went from bad to worse on 57 minutes when Alexis Flips was allowed the freedom of our box to waltz through and put the ball beyond Walter Benítez from an acute angle. 2-0 down and a whole month of hard work seemingly down the drain.

With all hope seemingly lost it was left back Hassane Kamara who came up with the goods. As we retained possession from an attacking throw, Kamara moved inside and collected the ball on the edge of the box before rifling a shot low into the far corner with his less favoured right foot! A superb moment of brilliance from the 26 year old who has quietly been amongst one of our better performers this season – also worth mentioning that he is a former Stade de Reims player, so it was almost inevitable that he would score.

Nothing to lose and we made the switch to Very Attacking mentality. It was seeming like a lost gamble until 90+3 minutes on the clock. Myziane Maolida leading the ball out of his own half on the left wing, played a searching cross field ball to find ACM on a path inward towards goal. Without even taking a touch to set himself, ACM played off a beautiful 1-2 with Amini Gouiri to find himself in space and possession in the Reims box. The ball sneaked in at the goalkeeper’s near post and we celebrated a 93rd minute equaliser as if it were a winning goal in a World Cup Final.

Talking Points:

  • Two mazy dribbles, two Reims goals.  Defending a real issue for this side, then so is the attack.  Did I mention we need a Striker?
  • But wait, a little reshuffle with AML to Inside Forward and Alexis Claude-Maurice as Winger Attack and we had a comeback.
  • Our left Wing Back dealing out the Remis mazy dribble goal to give us a lifeline.  Before FM Adventure did what FM Adventure does best: pursues it.  We went Very Attacking, Alexis Claude Maurice drives into the Reims half in a Nice counter, and sends the ball to our Striker.  Makeshift Advanced Forward Gouiri swivels on the ball, caressing the ball with the Gaelic flair and artistry like a peak Zizou, before returning it to Alexis who takes one or two touches before rifling it in the net.  2-2 FT, no less than we deserved.

Tactic: We stick with it, at 2-0 down v Reims it might have been another tactical switch on the cards but that late fightback gave us hope for this set up, at least until we can hit the transfer market.

Starting XI: Walter Benítez; Youcef Atal, Róbson Bambu, Stanley Nsoki, Hassane Kamara; Danilo, Pierre Lees-Melou, Hicham Boudaoui; Alexis Claude-Maurice, Myziane Maolida; Amine Gouiri

Subs: Rony Lopes (for Myziane Maolida, 21 mins), Jeff Reine-Adélaïde & Morgan Schneiderlin (for Alexis Claude-Maurice and Pierre Lees-Melou, 61 mins)

With Nantes down in 14th place, and ourselves on a high from five games unbeaten in a row, it seemed like the perfect time to make a statement. The team remained unchanged. We had faith.

Little did we know that statement would be more of a bumbling cry for help. Little did we know that our faith was misplaced. Little did we know.

With the game barely started, Róbson Bambu was penalised for a seemingly innocuous challenge. A penalty awarded, confirmed by video review, and Marcus Coco pops up to convert the opportunity.

Nice created very little of note in the remaining 85 minutes of the game. Even a late switch to Very Attacking again couldn’t muster up any chances to talk about.

Talking Points:

  • Tired legs, so we ploughed on knowing this was the final game before the Christmas Break.  Probably the wrong decision.
  • Our 1-0 defeat perhaps highlighted what we need: a brain in midfield, a striker and perhaps a sensible head defensively.
  • Roll on January.

8 points from a possible 15 in the league this month but we’ve managed to gain one place in the league. Last month we talked about putting a run of form together and looking toward Europa League qualification – it’s hard to imagine that happening currently. Our immediate aim is to return to the top half of the table.

Our European travels disappearing with a 0-0 draw at home to Sociedad is a miserable way to end the continental campaign. We move on and focus on the upcoming domestic cup.

How glad we are to have finally reached the end of 2020. With the January transfer market on the horizon, maybe our season will be saved by virtue of our recruitment plans.

We have just three Ligue 1 games in January but the month begins with our entry into the Ninth Round of the Coupe de France. If we find success in the cup we’ll have the Tenth and Eleventh rounds to play also before the month is out. Could this month revive our season?

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