Paris (AFP) – Nice coach Lucien Favre urged the surprise Ligue 1 leaders to look no further than Friday’s clash against traditional French giants Lyon as they bid to extend their unbeaten start.
Nice lead Cote d’Azur rivals Monaco by a point at the top after eight matches, and Favre is counting on his players to resume where they left off prior to the international break.
No team has ever finished below second with 20 points on the board at this stage of the campaign, but the Swiss swiftly refused to entertain thoughts of Nice achieving their best result since ending the 1975-76 campaign as runners-up.
“We’re not thinking about that, but just the match and staying focused on it and nothing else,” said Favre, who will have Mario Balotelli available after the striker’s red card against Lorient was overturned.
“There’s only three points to play for and we’re taking things match by match, it’s the best solution,” he added.
“We’re up against a very good side. Lyon have been one of the flagship teams in Ligue 1 for years, they have lots of internationals.”
Balotelli’s return is particularly welcome news with the rejuvenated Italian having scored five goals in just three league appearances since his arrival from Liverpool.
Fifth-place Lyon defeated bitter enemies Saint-Etienne 2-0 last time out but would fall 10 points off the pace should they lose at the Allianz Riviera.
– Falcao awaiting tests –
Radamel Falcao will undergo neurological tests to determine whether he can return for Monaco’s trip to fourth-place Toulouse, with the Colombia forward sidelined for the past three weeks following a concussion sustained against Nice.
Coach Leonardo Jardim made no secret that his preference would have been to play on Saturday, but a visit to the Pink City, so-called because of its terracotta bricks, is unlikely to hold much fear for a team that has lost just once in their last 11 outings there.
“Stats are stats but football is not like that. It’s always a new game against a team which has started well in the league, is well organised and has good players,” said Jardim, whose side travel to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League next Tuesday.
Reigning champions Paris Saint-Germain are third, four points behind Nice, as they continue to adapt to life under new boss Unai Emery.
With eight goals in seven league games, Edinson Cavani has assumed the role vacated by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the Uruguayan will fancy his chances of adding to that tally away to bottom side Dijon on Saturday.
Lille, who head to Guingamp this weekend, remain mired in the relegation zone despite a 1-0 win before the international break, while Marseille will look to exploit a Metz side low on confidence after conceding seven at home to Monaco in their previous match.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Toulouse v Monaco (1700), Nice v Lyon (1845)
Nancy v Paris Saint-Germain (1500), Bastia v Angers, Guingamp v Lille, Lorient v Nantes, Montpellier v Caen (1800)
Rennes v Bordeaux (1300), Saint-Etienne v Dijon (1500), Marseille v Metz (1845)
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