FC Schalke 04 vs OGC Nice Preview: Ligue 1 leaders hoping to avoid early Europa League exit

FC Schalke 04 vs OGC Nice Preview: Ligue 1 leaders hoping to avoid early Europa League exit

Die Knappen have already qualified for the knockout stages, but the second spot in Group I is still up for grabs.

Jack McGraghan

Tomorrow evening sees red-hot Schalke 04 take on Ligue 1 leaders but bottom of Group I outfit Nice, in a game that could confirm their early exit from the Europa League.

Markus Weinzierl's men have been dominant both domestically and continentally since their poor start to the season, and have not lost in their last 10 games in all competitions with Die Knappen winning eight of those.

Nice on the other hand have suffered from contrasting fortunes in Ligue 1 and the Europa League. Lucien Favre has taken them to the top of the French top-flight since taking the reigns from Claude Puel in the summer, but has been unable to replicate that form in Europe as his side sit bottom of Group I with a potential early exit from the competition staring them in the face.

Rampant Schalke have finally found their rhythm

Schalke fans could be forgiven for worrying at least a little after the men in royal blue lost all of their opening five matches in the Bundesliga, with an away win at tomorrow's opponents the only shimmer of light in what was certainly a dark month form wise.

Since then however Weinzierl's side have been almost unstoppable both home and away, with draws against Borussia Dortmund and FC Augsburg the only results stopping them from attaining a 100% record over their last 10 matches in all competitions. Their flawless recent form has seen them rise to 11th place in the Bundesliga table after they were rock bottom with no points from their opening five games.

Their form in the Europa League has never been in doubt though, and Schalke have won Group I with two games remaining thanks to their superior record against second placed FC Krasnodar who they beat 2-0 last time out thanks to goals from Nabil Bentaleb and Júnior Caiçara.

Nice's hopes of progressing are now out of their hands

Unfortunately for Favre's men, a win for FC Krasnodar and anything but a win for Nice tomorrow night would dump them out of the competition with only themselves to blame after a dismal start.

Les Aiglons have lost three of their four group matches in the competition, with their sole victory coming away to Red Bull Salzburg thanks to a solitary goal from Alassane Pléa in the 13th minute.

Favre's side have enjoyed much more success domestically, as they currently sit top of Ligue 1 after 13 matches with AS Monaco and PSG three points adrift. Plea and Mario Balotelli have been two of the star performers for the club so far this season, with eight and seven goals in all competitions respectively.

The previous game between the two sides took place on September 15 at the Allianz Riviera, with Schalke coming away with all three points thanks to a goal from Abdul Baba Rahman 75 minutes into the match. The away side were largely dominant in that match and Nice will certainly have to take inspiration from their league form if they are to retain any hopes of progressing to the knockout stages.

Team news

Schalke boss Weinzierl has already made clear that he intends to make changes for tomorrow's game, saying that "the Bundesliga is now more important" with their Europa League fate already secured.

In terms of injury news, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Atsuto Uchida are both unavailable for selection alongside the long-term absentees Breel Embolo and Coke. Apart from that however, Wienzierl will have almost a full strength squad available for the match tomorrow evening.

Nice also have a few injuries to contend with for the match, with star striker Balotelli the most notable absentee after he picked up a calf injury during their match against SM Caen just over one week ago. Alongside him are injuries to Maxime Le Marchand and Gautier Lloris as well as Mickael Le Bihan who is still suffering from a lengthy injury lay-off.

Predicted line-ups

Schalke 04 (3-1-4-2): Fährmann; Naldo, Nastasic, Höwedes; Geis; Caicara, Goretzka, Stambouli, Baba Rahman; Choupo-Moting, Meyer.

OGC Nice (4-3-3): Cardinale; Henrique, Sarr, Dante, Ricardo; Bodmer, Cyprien, Seri; Belhanda, Plea, Eysseric.