When they play Qarabag FK in the last round of Europa League group-stage matches on Thursday, Nantes will be fighting to maintain their chances of advancing to the continental knockout football stage of the competition.
The French team now sits in the last position in the Europa Conference League standings with only three points after four games played. They are four points behind their opponents, who must avoid a loss to secure at least a spot in the round of 16 of the competition.
Our Match Preview: Nantes vs Qarabag FK
Nantes won their first major trophy since 2001 last season, beating Nice to win the Coupe de France and qualify for the Europa League group stage.
Evann Guessand’s 93rd-minute winner helped them beat Olympiacos 2-1 in the opening round, but they haven’t added to their points tally in three attempts since and have struggled domestically.
The next two games ended in 3-0 and 2-0 defeats to Thursday’s opponents and Freiburg respectively, before they took on the latter and fell to a 4-0 thrashing on home turf as Lukas Kubler, Michael Gregoritsch, and Jeong Woo-yeong scored alongside a Jean-Charles Castelletto own goal.
Moses Simon, Ignatius Ganago, Mostafa Mohamed, and Moussa Sissoko scored to help Antoine Kombouare’s side beat Brest 4-1 after losing to Freiburg. A 97th-minute Nicolas Pepe penalty denied them all three points in a 1-1 draw with Nice last time out.
Nantes can only finish second with wins in both of their final two games if Qarabag also loses both. They’ll be desperate to stay in the race with a home win on Thursday.
Their visitors will be looking to cement a top-two finish and advance in the Europa League.
The Azerbaijani club dropped into Europe’s secondary competition after losing to Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League playoff round.
After a losing start against Freiburg, they put their first points on the board by beating Thursday’s hosts 3-0 thanks to goals from Owusu Kwabena, Abdellah Zoubir, and Marko Jankovic.
Gurban Gurbanov’s side strengthened their place in the top two with a 3-0 win away at Olympiacos, with Kwabena, Marko Vesovic, and Ramil Sheydayev scoring, before taking a point from the reverse fixture at home in their latest continental outing.
Kwabena, Sheydayev, and Filip Ozobic scored in a 3-0 win over Turan last Thursday to extend their perfect domestic record to 10 wins in 10 top-flight games. They are aiming for a 10th Azerbaijani title.
Returning to continental action with a four-point lead over their French hosts, Gurbanov’s side will know that if they avoid a loss on Thursday, they are guaranteed a knockout place, likely in the form of a drop into the Europa Conference League.
A victory could keep their fight for the top spot alive if league leaders Freiburg lose their game.
Our Team News: Nantes vs Qarabag FK
Even though Kader Bamba and Alban Lafont were both shown red cards in Nantes’ eventual draw with Nice at the weekend, they will both be eligible to play on Thursday because their suspensions will carry over to the next league game instead.
Alban Lafont will continue to be a key man in goal and will be given the captain’s armband to wear during the match.
Mostafa Mohamed and Ignatius Ganago have been competing to lead the line after the significant loss of key forward Randal Kolo Muani over the summer.
The latter should start for the match against Qarabag after opening the scoring against Nice in the most recent match, bringing his total to three goals in seven Ligue 1 appearances for the club after arriving from Lens.
Moussa Sissoko, another player who joined the club in the summer, has already earned more than 70 caps for France’s national team and will continue to play an important part in the midfield, most likely alongside Pedro Chirivella and Samuel Moutoussamy.
Ramil Sheydayev leads Qarabag in scoring with 11 goals and four assists in all competitions so far this season. He has scored 10 goals in 10 league games for Qarabag, putting him atop their scoring charts. Ramil Sheydayev is one of several attacking threats that Qarabag can use to trouble their hosts.
Owusu Kwabena, who has scored in four of the last five games in which he has started in the league or continental action, will once again join him in the attack. Kwabena has scored in each of the last five games in which he has started in the league or continental action.
Due to an injury, Shahrudin Mahammadaliyev was unable to play in their most recent game against Turan; therefore, it is recommended that Luka Gugeshashvili take over between the pipes for the remainder of the group stage.
- Nantes possible starting lineup: Lafont, Appiah, Girotto, Pallios, Merlin, Chirivella, Sissoko, Moutoussamy, Blas, Ganago, Simon.
- Qarabag FK possible starting lineup: Gugeshashvili, Vesovic, Mustafazada, Guseynov, Cafarguliyev, Qarayev, Richard; Kady, Zoubir; Sheydayev, Kwabena
Our Prediction: Nantes 1-1 Qarabag FK
Although Qarabag has unquestionably been the more impressive of the two teams in the group stage so far, we do not see them scooping up all three points in France and instead see them settling for a low-scoring draw as their best option to advance.
The home team has not been performing up to their usual standards this year, and we do not believe they will have what it takes to defeat the Azerbaijani champions and keep the race for second place in the running.