Maccabi Tel Aviv welcomes Nice for UEFA Conference League Playoff Round action as the first leg will be played on Thursday at Bloomfield Stadium while the return leg will take place next week in France.
The Yellow & Blue will look to get by the Ligue 1 outfit in order to get into the group stages for the second straight year after having disposed of Aris last week in a very tough third round draw.
Nice features not only one of the best managers in the game in Lucien Favre but also have plenty of extremely good players who can threaten Vladen Ivic’s Maccabi squad. One other factor that could effect the match in Israel is the availability of Nice’s Algerian players who on more than one occasion have not come to play in the Holy Land.
In order to get to know Nice a bit better, The Sports Rabbi was in touch with French journalist Maxime Bacquié who covers the club.
Nice’s 64-year old bench boss Lucian Favre has seen plenty in his career as both a player and a coach where he has managed clubs such as Dortmund, Monchengladbach, Hertha and Zurich. With a veteran such as Favre on the sidelines who is making his second stint with Nice, the club is definitely in solid hands, Bacquie explained.
“Lucien Favre is a coach who values technique above all and seeks players who are comfortable with the ball in all positions, especially the keeper. As far as tactics are concerned, his favorite system is 4-3-3 but it changes often, even during a match. He often talks about depth because he likes a vertical game with players who project forward and he is not someone who looks solely at possession.”
The French Riviera club has numerous players who could cause issues for Maccabi Tel Aviv’s defenders and midfielders, plus they also have an excellent keeper who joined the club from the English Premier League together with a Wales international who is mostly associated with his 262 appearances with Arsenal. But above all, their biggest threat comes from French-born, Algerian international Andy Delort.
“The most dangerous player in Nice today is undoubtedly Andy Delort. He is last season’s top scorer and he has just scored his first goal against Strasbourg. He is an attacker who never gives up and he can score in all positions. Above all he has never played in a European competition so he is very motivated by the Conference League.”
“Kasper Schmeichel and Aaron Ramsey got their Nice adventure off to a good start. Ramsey scored in his first game and showed his technical quality. He is not yet ready to start but he will surely be important in the last 30 minutes to bring his experience. Schmeichel was decisive in his debut match against Strasbourg with 3 magnificent saves. He brings serenity to the defense and leadership in the locker room. We saw him talking a lot with his teammates. This is something that was missing in the team.”
As for expectations, Nice’s are of course high and Havre’s club will do its utmost to qualify and use that to build upon going forward, “The club does not envisage any other outcome than qualification. It would be a terrible failure to be eliminated by Maccabi Tel Aviv. The Conference League is seen as a stepping stone in order to aim higher and Favre has set the top spot in Ligue 1 as a goal by next season.”
Bloomfield Stadium will be sold out for the first leg between the two clubs and Nice is expecting to have some sort of travelling fans with them despite the long distance that needs to be travelled from France to Israel.
“I know that some supporters have planned to travel to Israel to support Nice. The length of the trip and the uncertainty around the context of the match doesn’t really encourage travelling and due to that there won’t be many fans. But since Nice haven’t played much in the Europe over the course of the recent past, this match will be looked at as very important for the team.”
One of the issues surrounding Nice’s visit to Israel is the availability of their Algerian players due to government pressure to boycott the Jewish State. With five who are citizens and a number with Algerian roots, there are questions about who may or may not travel with the club for the tie. However, Bacquie says that there is no question that Delort will play in the match.
“We do not know if the Algerian players will travel. Delort has Algerian origins but there is no doubt that he will be available for the game. That will also be the case for Atal I believe. Boudaoui is injured and will not be in the squad, but this will not be because of the political context.”