With the club’s announcement on Monday that Lucien Favre had been relinquished of his first team managerial duties, OGC Nice’s home fixture against Montpellier HSC represented a chance for Didier Digard to pick up three points in his first game as Head Coach.
Digard and his assistant, Julien Sable, fielded a strong starting eleven that would line up in a 433 formation, while their opponents opted for a 4231. Kasper Schmeichel started between the sticks for les Aiglons, with a back four of Bard, Dante, Todibo and Lotomba offering support. Boudaoui was deployed in a more defensive role at the heart of the midfield, alongside Thuram and Ramsey. Diop and Pepe on the wings were tasked with supplying Gaetan Laborde, who would operate as the sole striker.
For the visitors, it would be Jonas Omlin in goal. Maousassa, Esteve, Jullien and Sacko completed the defence, with Leroy and Ferri lining up in midfield. England’s Stephy Mavididi joined Savanier and Makouana in the attacking midfield positions, behind Elye Wahi up front.
Nice Starting XI: Schmeichel; Bard, Dante, Todibo, Lotomba; Thuram, Boudaoui, Ramsey; Diop, Laborde, Pepe
Montpellier Starting XI: Omlin; Maousassa, Esteve, Jullien, Sacko; Leroy, Ferri; Mavididi, Savanier, Makouana; Wahi
Four days after their disappointing performance against Championnat National side Puy that saw Favre’s side knocked out of the Coupe de France in what would be his final game in charge, les Aiglons returned to the Allianz Riviera with a newfound confidence and a desire to impress new head coach, Didier Digard.
Boudaoui’s excelled in his defensive midfield role, as he prised the ball away from Teji Savanier before feeding a ball into Khephren Thuram just after the 15 minute mark. Thuram would then go on to find Nicolas Pepe, who slotted the ball past Jonas Omlin after missing an earlier opportunity to open the scoring.
Nice had certainly started this fixture on the stronger foot, and it didn’t take long for them to double their advantage, with Thuram, who had set up Pepe’s goal, firing home himself this time. After Laborde’s effort was deflected off the post by Omlin, Thuram played a quick one-two with Dante, before finding the back of the net to extend the home side’s advantage.
After the interval, a superb recovery from Bard in the midfield allowed Nice to break forward on the counterattack. The midfielder found Diop on the left flank, who in turn played in Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman found Pepe, who duly slotted home at the near post to add to Nice’s lead over a mediocre Montpellier outfit.
Ramsey was replaced by Ross Barkley – who would soon go on to influence the game in a very convincing manner. It was Delort, who had also been introduced as a substitute, that would get Nice’s fourth goal – rifling a left-footed shot on the half-volley past Omlin after a cross into the area by Laborde.
Montpellier found a consolation goal in the eightieth minute through Savanier, who scored from a free-kick – but his goal was just that – a consolation. In truth, Montpellier had looked defeated since Pepe opened the scoring early on in the first half. Nonetheless, it gave the away contingent one positive to take from a game that had otherwise been excruciatingly painful for them to watch as they linger above the relegation zone.
Ross Barkley got involved in the action in the 82nd minute, firing home a left-footed effort past Jonas Omlin – who at this point appeared to be rather redundant between the sticks for Montpellier. The Englishman would soon bag his second goal of the evening after surging past Jullien and sending Omlin the wrong way. Despite a slow start to life at the Allianz Riviera, Barkley appears to finally be finding his feet. His two goals tonight bring his tally at Nice to 3, and all of those have been scored in 2023 – with the ex-Chelsea man also netting in the club’s defeat to Stade Rennais on January 2nd.
Nice move up to 10th place, ahead of their game against Reims on Sunday. For Montpellier, there’s plenty to ponder as they sit just three points off the relegation zone ahead of their fixture against fellow strugglers, Nantes, on the weekend. The next two games will be crucial for Romain Pitau’s side, who also face 18th-place Auxerre before the end of January.