For a long while, shock contenders OGC Nice were favourites to lift the Ligue 1 title at the end of the season, after storming into an early lead and maintaining their place as France’s best side throughout the first half of the season.
Lucien Favre’s side’s early season form was nothing short of incredible. The early pacesetters started the season with an 11 match unbeaten run which saw them take the top spot. In fact, Nice were playing so well that there was even talk of serial failure Mario Balotelli winning the Ballon d’Or, after the wayward striker scored six goals in his first five appearances for the club.
A narrow 1-0 defeat to SM Caen in November was then followed by another 10 matches without a loss. However, 2017 hasn’t been quite so kind to the title-chasing club.
All in all, Nice still have the lowest number of defeats in Ligue 1, having lost just two games throughout the season, compared to Monaco’s three and Paris Saint-Germain’s four. However, a number of lacklustre draws have since forced the club to concede their top spot to Monaco.
They now find themselves in third with nine games left to play this season. Last week, they were still in with a shout of claiming the title, level on points with second-placed PSG and just three points behind current leaders Monaco.
However, yet another disappointing draw, this time against 14th placed SM Caen, means that they now have six points to make up to regain the top spot. Given that Monaco have dropped just four points in their last 11 matches, it would seem that OGC Nice’s chances of pulling off a shock title victory are all but over.
Favre will undoubtedly be disappointed by the way in which his side dropped out of the running. He would have expected an easy victory against SM Caen, particularly so at home. However, the result wasn’t out of the ordinary.
Of the nine draws that Nice have recorded this season, over half of those results have come against teams in the bottom half of the table. Whether a lack of effort or simply an inability to break down defensive sides, it is this inability to claim three points in what should be the ‘easy’ games that will cost Nice the title.
With Balotelli’s form having since dipped (he has scored just twice so far this year) and fellow goalscorer Wylan Cyprien having suffered a anterior crucial ligament injury which has ruled him out for the remainder of the season, goals will be even harder to come by for the club over the final few months.
As long as there are games left to play, there is still a glimmer of hope for Nice, but it seems Ligue 1’s most competitive title race in years is now a two horse race.