A quick glance at the embryonic Ligue 1 table and it might be surprising to see Nice up there.
The Eaglets haven’t exactly pulled up trees within France’s top division in recent years. Although it’s been eight years since falling outside the first ten positions, Nice has twice finished above fifth place, albeit that most recent accomplishment coming in 2016/17 (third) under Lucien Favre’s leadership.
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Favre couldn’t rekindle that magic on his 2022 return and he’s since been succeded by Italian tactician Francesco Farioli who had previously coached Turkish outfits Fatih Karagümrük and Alanyaspor.
Farioli, who turns 35 next April, initially made his name as the the goalkeeping coach at Fortis Juventus and Lucchese before joining the Aspire Academy in Qatar from where Roberto De Zerbi, then coaching Benevento, approached him and the pair continued together at Sassuolo before parting ways.
De Zerbi’s reputation while sitting in Brighton’s dugout continues to grow. He’s since been linked with Real Madrid as Carlo Ancelotti’s successor while Pep Guardiola feels he could follow in his footsteps.
Perhaps watching from afar, De Zerbi has seen Farioli establish himself as one of Europe’s exciting young managers, the numbers speak for themselves. After the opening nine Ligue 1 rounds Nice remain as the league’s sole unbeaten side. They’re currently second a point behind Monaco with defending champions Paris Saint-Germain in third.
L’OGC Nice est la meilleure défense d’Europe ❤️🖤
— OGC Nice (@ogcnice) October 21, 2023
Going deeper the French Riviera-based side has registered six clean sheets while conceding only four goals but scoring 10 times which is very much Jose Mourinho-esque though it will take a herculean effort to replicate his 2004/05 Chelsea team’s effort. Back then, having ended the Blues’ decades-long championship wait, Mourinho’s charges only shipped in 15 goals.
A key component behind Nice’s defensive performance is the presence of Jean-Clair Todibo who continues to be linked with Manchester United, having the veteran 40-year-old centre-back Dante by Todibo’s side has only accelerated his development.
Before thinking Farioli is a full-on De Zerbi acolyte it’s worth taking a step back as Nice isn’t exactly possession-obsessed. As touched upon, they’re not bombarding the opposition’s goal and presently ranked ninth when it comes to shots per game (11.9) while averaging 51.3% per game which is a more credible sixth-best in Ligue 1 so far.
Farioli, meanwhile, isn’t getting carried away. “We have to look at the standings as little as possible, but the start of the season has been very positive; we couldn’t have asked for better,” he told reporters. “Our objective is to accumulate the points in the good moments for the moments that will be more difficult in the season.”