Marseille exploit Nice’s Aggression To Claim Impressive Comeback Victory

DLFAEI4VAAAd-QMIn the early going, Nice looked to have the better of Marseille. During their Ligue 1 encounter on Sunday, Lucien Favre’s men took the lead just three minutes in, through a Mario Balotelli header, and doubled it not long after. When Jean Michael Seri’s deflected effort skidded into the back of the net, Nice were 2-0 up and cruising. They had a lead to protect, and after their recent performance against Monaco, most would’ve expected them to go on with it.

In that game against Monaco, Nice went ahead early and followed up by using a disciplined counter-attacking strategy. They were compact and tight in defence, allowing Monaco to dominate possession but not allowing them to penetrate. Then, when they won the ball back, they pounced in transition. They used the speed of Allan Saint-Maximin and Alassane Plea to perfection, finding them in wide open spaces against a disorganised Monaco backline. Guys like Seri passed the ball with precision, and a combination of Balotelli and Nice’s speedier attackers did the rest. Even young Ignatius Ganago, who came off the bench for his league debut, powered in behind Monaco’s high line to score his first ever Ligue 1 goal, and when the match ended 4-0, Nice’s effort could only have been described as a textbook example of capitalising on an early lead via clinical counter-attacking football.

With a 2-0 lead against Marseille, many would’ve expected them to produce something similar. The personnel was very similar, with both Plea and Saint-Maximin offered the speed to go with Balotelli’s finishing instincts and Seri’s proficiency in possession. The stage was set, especially in light of Marseille’s recent 6-1 loss to Monaco. Yet just as it looked good for Nice, they strangely chose to run with a different strategy.

Nice wanted to impose their own style of football on the game, and at 2-0 up, maybe that was reasonable. After all, they are a possession team. Aside from Paris Saint-Germain, who average a staggering 64% of possession per game, Nice are Ligue 1’s biggest ball hoarders. They average 57% possession, so it’s fair to say that they like to play. They like to work the ball out from the back, using the talents of Seri, who attracted the interest of Barcelona in the recent transfer window, to lead the way in their possession-based game.

So, against a struggling Marseille, they continued to make use of that style. They continued to pass out from defence, and they continued to pour forward in attack. They were clearly chasing a cricket score, and even when Lucas Ocampos pulled one back for OM, Nice weren’t deterred. This saw them end the match with a massive 63% of possession, but it also saw them lose from a wonderful position.

Marseille’s equaliser, to make it 2-2 just minutes before half-time, was the start of their problems. Here, Seri attempted a switch of play, but the ball hung in the air. That enabled Jordan Amavi, Marseille’s left-back, to latch onto the ball and spark a quickfire counter-attack. He sprinted into the final third, using his speed to take him away from Nice fullback Arnaud Souquet, before crossing. His ball wasn’t too good, but when Malang Sarr slipped over in the Nice defensive area, it meant that Florian Thauvin could regain possession for Marseille on the right-hand side.

He then went one-on-one with Sarr, dropping a shoulder to get beyond the inexperienced defender. Thauvin then found himself pressed up against the byline, and with little on offer, hit a sharp cutback towards the penalty spot. Nice’s Pierre Lees-Melou got there first, but he sliced his clearance horribly, so much so that it dawdled in the air before finishing up in the back of the net. That own goal made it 2-2, and Nice had already blown their lead.

It would, however, get worse for them. After a few near misses, due to some unsteady attempts at playing out from defence, Nice finally went behind. Nampalys Mendy found himself in the midst of a heavy Marseille press, and as a player still working his way back towards form and fitness, he coughed it up. Luiz Gustavo intercepted his wayward pass, and when the ball found its way into Dimitri Payet’s feet, Marseille looked likely to generate something. The former West Ham man slid a pass to Gustavo, who hit a quick shot at goal from the edge of the area. Yoan Cardinale, in Nice’s goal, could only deflect the effort up into the air, and when the lively Ocampos surged into the goalmouth, he headed it home from close range to give Marseille the lead.

By this point, Nice were in desperate need of the half-time whistle. Yet even the interval did little to settle them, and in the 48th minute, mere minutes after emerging for the second period, they made another blunder. This time, Dante tried to play out from defence, but his slow pass to Seri caused problems. Of course, it’s tough to only blame Dante, as Seri could’ve moved towards the ball rather than waiting for its arrival, but Gustavo wasn’t too concerned with who was at fault. He nipped in ahead of Seri, a blur of wiry limbs, to gather the ball. He then charged forward against an unset Nice defence, took his time and picked a spot. His left-footed shot, a hard, low drive, powered beyond the clutches of Cardinnale to ripple the netting. 4-2 Marseille, and the game was just about won.

Of course, Gustavo’s controversial red card, on 66 minutes, gave Nice an avenue back into the game, but they couldn’t take it. Marseille held onto their 4-2 lead with aplomb, sitting back and even creating a superb opportunity to go 5-2 up. Valere Germain missed it, but Marseille still played well with a man down, conceding only a couple of true chances to Nice in the process. In a sense, they played in the kind of sensible, reserved manner that Nice should have after going two goals up. Favre could probably take something away from that, as even though it was at least admirable to try and push on while holding the lead, there can be times when a steadier approach can be more appropriate.

Marseille, on the other hand, were superb in the face of a difficult scoreline. They didn’t panic, and once their first goal went in, they were emboldened. They started to press and they started to score. That rattled Nice, and Marseille didn’t relent. That meant Rudi Garcia’s men took the win, and as their “Champions Project” continues to progress, they’re looking more and more capable of improvement. Of course, Nice helped them out with some questionable tactics, but after coming back from 2-0 down to win 4-2, especially while seeing out the game with 10 men, this had to be viewed as a strong showing for the club.