Friday, February 3, 2023

Christophe Gaultier trying to recreate Nice in his own image. NWN News

PARIS (NWN) — For Christophe Gaultier, the key to a successful season is a solid defense.

Gaultier relied on a strong defense and a smart mix of youth and experience to lead Lille to the French league title last season. Coach is now trying to do the same with Nice.

Nice have one of the most prolific one-two punches in the league with Amin Gauri and Andy Delorte, who have scored 13 goals. But don’t expect the team to attack fearlessly when they meet leader Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

“The worst thing that can happen against Paris is when you attack and don’t finish the play and then Paris hits you at the fast break,” Gaultier said. “When you defend well you attack well. … We must defend well against Paris.”

That defense-minded approach comes as no surprise. Gaultier was a strong defender in the 1980s and 1990s when he played for Lille, Marseille and other clubs.

Appointed by Nice in the off-season, Gaultier has improved the team in just a few months. Nice are third with the strongest defense and the fifth best attack in the league. The similarities with last season’s lilies are striking. Under Gaultier, Lille won the title with best defense and fourth best attack.

“The face of Nice has changed and it is due to the fact that they have hired the best coach in the French league,” Monaco coach Nico Kovac told RMC Sport. “When a new coach manages to impose his ideas on players who trust him and who follow him, you see it in the results.”

Nice finished ninth last season and lacked cohesion and creativity under Patrick Vieira, who was fired last December.

Ambitions are high in Nice, especially after British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe acquired the club in 2019. Nice are expected to make it to the Champions League for the first time since the 2016–17 season, when it finished third under Lucien Favre.

The club supported Gaultier in the off-season by signing Delorte, Calvin Stangs, Justin Kluivert, Mario Lemina, Pablo Rosario, Jean-Claire Todibo and Melvin Bard.

Gaultier built up a solid backbone at Lille, with veteran Jose Fonte teaming up with a young Sven Boutman at centre, a veteran Benjamin André playing with Boubakri Soumare in midfield, and Turkish striker Burak Yilmaz. Jonathan was leading the line with David.

The French coach chased Todibo in the center of the defense with former Bayern Munich defender Dante in Nice, Lemina guiding Rosario and Khefrain Thuram in midfield, and Delorte assisting France Under-21 international Gouri.

Nice started the season well with clean sheets in their first four games. But he has scored in his last eight matches. In that rough patch, Nice still earned comeback victories over Lyon, Angers and Clermont.

Last weekend’s 1-0 loss to struggling Metz was a wake-up call for a Nice team that had become complacent.

“Our strength was that we were very hard to beat,” Gaultier said. “Now the rival is getting us into more trouble. We have to rediscover the right balance.”

Nice will miss Rosario through suspension while PSG will be without Neymar, who suffered an ankle injury against Saint-Etienne last weekend.

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