It has not been an easy season for Christophe Galtier at Nice. The veteran manager, who followed up an illustrious run with St-Étienne by steering Lille to an unlikely Ligue 1 title last season, was given plenty of money in the summer to bolster what was already a decent squad. However, his signings have often struggled this season and the fact that Nice have kept pace with the other clubs chasing PSG has been seen as an indictment of their rivals’ inconsistent form rather than evidence of Galtier’s coaching ability.
At least, that was the case until Nice outplayed and beat PSG at the Allianz Riviera on Saturday. Given that PSG were 16 points clear of their hosts when the game kicked off, the result may look almost immaterial, but the victory has taken Nice into second place and also shown what PSG’s future may look like if Kylian Mbappé decides to leave in the summer.
Nice had been in action in midweek – beating Versailles in the Coupe de France to book their place in the final against Nantes – but they did not look tired at all. Galtier’s side took the game by the scruff of the neck in a way that has rarely been seen before in the league against PSG. Yes, Lyon largely went toe-to-toe with Mauricio Pochettino’s side in both of their matches this season, and Nantes and Rennes have also recorded impressive wins, but Nice were the dominant force in this match.
Were Nice simply better or were they fortunate to be facing PSG while Mbappé was suspended? As Galtier remarked after the match: “There is a PSG with Kylian and another without him.” The truth lies somewhere between the two. Nice were excellent, dominating the midfield despite being outnumbered thanks to the play of Pablo Rosario and Mario Lemina. Marco Verratti was his competent self but Georginio Wijnaldum looked off the pace – as he has done so often since joining from Liverpool – and Danilo Pereira fared little better. Ander Herrera and Leandro Paredes were injured, and Idrissa Gueye was only used from the bench, but that trio would probably not have changed the balance of play in any case.
Amine Gouiri, who has been at the heart of all Nice have done well this season, showed his intent from the off, going close with a pair of chances inside the first five minutes. His interplay with Melvin Bard did much to humble PSG defender Thilo Kehrer, with Keylor Navas kept busy throughout, making five saves over the course of the evening.
The hosts were the better side throughout, but the match was only settled late on by Andy Delort, one of those maligned summer signings and so often the forgotten man this season despite his brilliance at Montpellier last year. The striker came on with 20 minutes to play and scored a spectacular winner, with Calvin Stengs providing the delivery.
Most of Galtier’s summer signings have been unconvincing – save Bard and Jean-Clair Todibo – but Stengs, Rosario and Justin Kluivert have all improved recently, which has given Nice the depth and variety they have needed in attack. The players seem to have absorbed Galtier’s lessons over the campaign and they now look much more cohesive in defence.
There will be further bumps in the road for Nice but they have reached the Coupe de France final – which gives them a chance to win their first major trophy in 30 years – and look set to return to the Champions League next season. It has taken some time for Galtier to disseminate his message, but he is now reaffirming his reputation as a top-level manager.
PSG had a few chances but their performance underscored what is becoming an increasingly worrying prospect for the league leaders – how poor this team can be without Mbappé as a focal point. Even with Neymar, Lionel Messi and Di María on the pitch, they looked bereft of ideas and frustrated. Neymar even shoved Gouiri at full-time after Nice had run down the clock from a free-kick.
Nice’s progress has been slow and sometimes halting under Galtier – and the other sides chasing the European places have all been inconsistent this season – but, should Mbappé leave in the summer, the standard required to challenge for the title may be much lower in years to come. Despite their riches, PSG have become overly reliant on an individual. If he departs, PSG’s hegemony in Ligue 1 may soon look radically different.
Troyes’ 2-0 win over Bordeaux at the Matmut Atlantique was a chippy affair. The hosts missed a series of chances before a penalty from Lébo Mothiba sealed a result that leaves Bordeaux bottom. Losing at home to a relegation rival is not good for a team’s confidence, but David Guion’s side still have fixtures to come against the rest of the bottom five – as well as an Angers side who have lost their last six games. That said, the lack of cohesion from Bordeaux, as well as the way they lost control of their emotions, could be more telling than the result. If they do not start dealing with the pressure, they will be relegated.
In the weekend’s other relegation six-pointer, St-Étienne beat Metz 1-0 at a raucous Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. Buoyed on by their supporters in what was just their second home win of the season, St-Étienne have now picked up 13 points from their last six games and climbed out of the relegation zone. The referee’s decision to controversially disallow a penalty for Metz helped, but St-Étienne were still deserved winners. Pascal Dupraz helped Toulouse avoid relegation five years ago and he could be on the brink of doing the same at St-Étienne.
Ligue 1’s two Europa League representatives both turned in solid performances, with Lyon running out 4-1 winners at Lorient and Monaco beating Marseille 1-0 away. The two teams face tricky last-16 ties in midweek – Lyon travel to Porto and Monaco visit Braga – but there is every chance they will fly the Ligue 1 flag high in a season where French sides have taken Europe by storm.