For the first time in ages, the Derby de la Côte d’Azur had a lot riding on it in terms of league position and points. In a season where PSG have just run away with the league, Monaco and Nice have come closest in terms of establishing some sort of consistency. It’s not often that this has been a game of second vs third, hence there was a lot of excitement heading into the game.
Unfortunately, the match didn’t live up to expectations. Monaco won 1-0 despite playing with ten men from the 48th minute onwards. Joao Moutinho’s excellent floated free kick found Tiemoué Bakayako’s head for the winner in the 81st minute. It was a classic sucker punch from a team that has mastered the art of winning functionally. Deprived of the cash and superstars that originally accompanied them on their return to Ligue 1, Leonardo Jardim has done well to find a system that is efficient and brings the results and accompanying points to the Stade Louis II.
As far as Nice are concerned, Claude Puel’s men missed an opportunity to make a statement. Despite being the away team, Nice had more supporters in the stadium than their hosts. Win, and they would jump above their rivals in second place. In stead, Les Aiglons put in a feeble performance. Other than getting Danijel Subasic to pull off one world class save in the first half, Nice just didn’t create any clear-cut chances. Most disappointingly for Puel, his three stars of the season — Hatem Ben Arfa, Valère Germain and Jean Seri — failed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, even when they had the man advantage.
With a six-point lead over Nice and Saint-Étienne, Monaco are now clear favourites for direct qualification to the Champions League. They are the most consistent team after the champions and also have the experience of finishing the season well, something that the other teams in Ligue 1’s chasing pack don’t possess. Nice on the other hand, are right in the mix of one of the most competitive races for third in the league’s history. Level on points with Saint-Étienne with an improving Lyon just three points behind, Nice will have to show greater verve and stronger fortitude in the run-in to ensure the efforts of a promising first half of the season are not wasted.