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Christophe Galtier trying to rebuild Nice in his own image

November 30, 2021 GMT
PSG's Kylian Mbappe, right, challenges for the ball with Saint-Etienne's Alpha Sissoko during the French League One soccer between Saint-Etienne and Paris Saint Germain, in Saint-Etienne, central France, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
PSG's Kylian Mbappe, right, challenges for the ball with Saint-Etienne's Alpha Sissoko during the French League One soccer between Saint-Etienne and Paris Saint Germain, in Saint-Etienne, central France, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
PSG's Kylian Mbappe, right, challenges for the ball with Saint-Etienne's Alpha Sissoko during the French League One soccer between Saint-Etienne and Paris Saint Germain, in Saint-Etienne, central France, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

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

Galtier led Lille to the French league title last season by relying on a strong defense and a smart blend of youth and experience. The coach is now trying to do the same with Nice.

Nice has one of the most prolific one-two punches in the league with Amine Gouiri and Andy Delort, who have combined for 13 goals. But don’t expect the team to fearlessly attack when it visits leader Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

“The worst thing that can happen against Paris is when you attack and don’t finish plays and then Paris hits you on the fast break,” Galtier said. “You attack well when you defend well. ... We must defend well against Paris.”

That defense-minded approach is no surprise. Galtier was a rugged defender when he played for Lille, Marseille and other clubs in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Appointed by Nice in the offseason, Galtier has improved the team within a few months. Nice is in third place with the tightest defense and the fifth most prolific attack in the league. The similarities with the Lille of last season are striking. Under Galtier, Lille clinched the title by having the best defense and the fourth best attack.

“The face of Nice has changed and it’s in part due to the fact that they have hired the best coach in the French league,” Monaco coach Niko Kovac told RMC Sport. “When a new coach manages to impose his ideas to 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.

The ambitions are high at Nice, especially after British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe acquired the club in 2019. Nice hopes to clinch a Champions League spot for the first time since the 2016-17 season, when it finished third under Lucien Favre.

The club backed Galtier by signing Delort, Calvin Stengs, Justin Kluivert, Mario Lemina, Pablo Rosario, Jean-Clair Todibo and Melvin Bard in the offseason.

Galtier built a solid spine at Lille with veteran Jose Fonte teaming up with a young Sven Botman at center back, an experienced Benjamin Andre playing alongside Boubakary Soumare in midfield, and Turkey striker Burak Yilmaz leading the line with Jonathan David.

The French coach has used the same template at Nice with former Bayern Munich defender Dante chaperoning Todibo in the heart of the defense, Lemina guiding Rosario and Khephren Thuram in midfield, and Delort helping out France under-21 international Gouiri up front.

Nice started the season well by keeping clean sheets in its first four games. But it has conceded goals in its last eight games. In that rough patch, Nice still earned comeback wins over Lyon, Angers and Clermont.

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

“Our strength was that we were very tough to beat,” Galtier said. “Now the opponent is putting us more and more in trouble. We must rediscover the right balance.”

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

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