Saint-Etienne v Nice – Stade Geoffroy-Guichard at 19:45 live on BT Sport 3
With PSG struggling to make inroads under new head coach Unai Emery, Nice have emerged as Ligue 1’s leading light in 2016/17.
Les Aiglons performed well above expectations to finish fourth last season and then saw their best players pilfered by bigger, richer rivals and boss Claude Puel pinched by Southampton.
Nevertheless, Nice pulled off something of a coup when they appointed Lucien Favre as their new manager. The Swiss coach’s time at Borussia Monchengladbach ended in bitter disappointment but he had made the club a consistent threat to the European places in Germany.
Favre took charge of Gladbach when they were rock-bottom of the Bundesliga, but survived relegation and then led the Foals to regular top-six finishes. With new owners at Nice, the side from the south of France were hopeful he could repeat the feat with Les Aiglons.
Ligue 1’s surprise package
But nobody expected to see Nice comfortably top of the division as we enter mid-November. Favre’s troops suffered their first defeat of the campaign before the international break but had been averaging the most points per-game across Europe’s leading five leagues beforehand (W8-D2-L1).
Nice’s boss has employed his preferred back-three formation this term and has worked wonders to bring out the best of the players at his disposal. Mario Balotelli is the headline act, but across the board Les Aiglons are stocked with talented and exciting young starlets.
Goalkeeper Yoan Cardinale, experienced defenders Paul Baysse, Dante and teenager Malang Sarr have performed heroically at the heart of defence, whilst 20-year-old midfielder Vincent Koziello has attracted attention from some of the country’s biggest clubs. Ricardo Pereira’s impressed on the right-wing and Alassane Plea’s proven a revelation in the final third.
There is a caveat, mind. Nice haven’t yet travelled away to any of France’s big guns – 10th-placed Angers is the toughest road trip they’ve faced as yet – and it’s worth pointing out that their shot ratio return leaves them in the bottom-six of Ligue 1’s standings, with only Metz and Dijon facing more attempts on goal.
Saint to offer a stern test
Favre’s charges will undoubtedly be tested on Sunday night when they make the journey to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard. Hosts Sainte-Etienne have suffered a solitary loss in 11 and their defensively resolute displays make Les Verts tricky customers.
Christophe Galter’s men have never been amongst Ligue 1’s entertainers, but their mighty effective performances make the home side a devilishly difficult side to beat. Over the past two campaigns, they’ve suffered only five losses when welcoming 20 top-half opponents.
Les Verts’ woeful first-half record
But there is a way we can oppose Saint here. Remarkably, Galter’s group have scored just two first-half league goals over their last 25 Ligue 1 outings – that’s two goals in 1,125 first-half minutes or if you’d prefer, one first-half goal every nine hours!
This season Les Verts are averaging their first goal of the game in the 69th minute and they’ve unsurprisingly failed to lead at the interval in any of their 12 matches.
Considering Nice have trailed at the break just once, leaking only four first-half goals, it makes sense to dive in on the 1.70 available for Nice +0.25 on the first-half Asian Handicap market.
Go low on first-half goals
I’m also going to gobble up the 2.26 available on under 0.75 first-half goals. It’s proven profitable in seven of Saint-Etienne’s 12 games this term, as well as 10 of their past 20 when hosting top-half teams.
With eight of their last 10 at the Geoffroy-Guichard having featured no more than three goals, as have nine of their last 10 in the league, a low-scoring encounter could be on the cards.
Nice aren’t normally quite so negative in their approach, but it’s interesting to note that only three of Les Aiglons last 18 away days in domestic action have failed to feature more than two goals.
Again it suggests a low-scoring duel might be in prospect on Sunday night, with goals potentially at a premium in the first 45 minutes.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Under 0.75 first-half goals at 2.26 & Nice +0.25 first-half Asian Handicap at 1.70
Prices correct at time of writing.
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