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Preview: Toulouse vs. Nantes - prediction, team news, lineups

:Headline: Preview: Toulouse vs. Nantes - prediction, team news, lineups:
Sports Mole previews Thursday's Ligue 1 relegation/promotion playoff first leg between Toulouse and Nantes, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Sports Mole

With 180 minutes remaining to salvage their Ligue 1 status, Nantes prepare for the first of two legs with Ligue 2 high-flyers Toulouse on Thursday in the relegation-promotion playoffs.

Patrice Garande's men secured a third-placed finish in the second tier to advance to the playoff final, while Nantes failed to climb out of the bottom three on the final day of the Ligue 1 season.

Match preview

Automatic promotion back to the big time appeared to be a certainty for Toulouse during the first half of the 2020-21 campaign, but several uncharacteristic slip-ups away from home gave Troyes and Clermont the opportunity to leapfrog Garande's men into the top two spots in the table.

Toulouse ultimately ended the season seven points behind champions Troyes and two adrift of Clermont, as back-to-back draws with strugglers Pau and Dunkerque rounded off a turbulent 2021 for Garande's side, who secured a spot in the playoff final courtesy of their third-placed finish.

Fourth-placed Grenoble overcame fifth-placed Paris FC for the chance to meet Toulouse in the semi-final, but Garande's crop were a step ahead of the game and cruised to a 3-0 success last Friday, as Stijn Spierings, Kouadio Kone and Rhys Healey all made the net ripple in a dominant showing.

A tally of 13 points during the curtailed 2019-20 Ligue 1 season represented quite the fall from grace for Toulouse, who plied their trade in the Champions League as recently as the 2007-08 campaign, but their frankly astonishing home form ought to help them gain the upper hand on Thursday.

Indeed, Garande's men are unbeaten at home since the turn of the year and won 11 of their last 12 Ligue 2 games at the Stadium de Toulouse in the regular season - scoring 33 goals in that time - and Manchester-born Healey will be key to his side's efforts of an immediate promotion, having notched up 15 goals so far.

None of the six sides from 13th to 18th were safe from the threat of a relegation playoff on the final day of the season, and with Nantes entering their game with Montpellier HSC on the back of a four-game winning streak, many expected them to pull off a great escape.

However, Antoine Kombouare's men got off to the worst possible start as Montpellier's Gaetan Laborde tapped home after Andy Delort's penalty was saved by Alban Lafont, but it took just three minutes for Randal Kolo Muani to crash home the equaliser before the break.

However, Delort - as he has done so often this season - saved Montpellier's bacon in the 76th minute of the contest, as the Algerian latched onto a pass from Elye Wahi before coolly slotting home to condemn Nantes to an 18th-placed standing.

It was a bitter end after such a promising few weeks for the side marshalled by Kombouare, but he is now out for revenge against former club Toulouse, who lost nine of their 11 matches under his tutelage before he was given the boot after less than two months in charge in January 2020.

On the bright side, Les Canaris travel to Toulouse on a three-game winning streak away from home, and they have lost just one of their last eight on the road, so rediscovering that golden touch will be crucial to preserving their Ligue 1 status for the eighth year in a row.

Toulouse's only win in their last 10 attempts against Nantes came at home in the 2018-19 season, but Les Canaris won the corresponding game 2-1 during their only meeting of the 2019-20 campaign.

Toulouse form:
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • D
  • D
  • W

Nantes form:
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • L

Team News

Toulouse captain Ruben Gabrielsen returns from a one-game ban this week, and with the defender also confirmed to be COVID-negative after a scare, he is in line to replace Bafode Diakite in the rearguard.

Steve Mvoue's Ligue 1 debut against Dunkerque ended in disaster as he received a straight red card in the 68th minute, and he takes his place on the naughty step for this game, although he was never likely to start.

Healey was surprisingly dropped to the bench against Grenoble after netting all three of his side's goals against Dunkerque on May 15, but after coming off the bench to score last week, he will hope to displace Amine Adli up front.

Nantes coach Kombouare once again has a fully-fit contingent raring to go for the playoffs, and the former Toulouse manager should resist the temptation to make wholesale changes to a side who have performed so valiantly over the past month.

The second leg will be played just three days after Thursday's first meeting, though, so the need for fresh legs could see Charles Traore and Abdoulaye Toure benefit from some rotation.

However, Kombouare may elect to stick with the same XI and get off on the right foot in the first leg, which would see Kolo Muani - seeking his 10th goal of the campaign - join Kalifa Coulibaly up top once again.

Toulouse possible starting lineup:
Dupe; Amian, Dewaest, Gabrielsen; Moreira, Kone, Dejaegere, Machado; Spierings; Healey, Bayo

Nantes possible starting lineup:
Lafont; Corchia, Castelletto, Pallois, Appiah; Blas, Louza, Chirivella, Simon; Kolo Muani, Coulibaly

We say: Toulouse 1-1 Nantes

Given Toulouse's exceptional home form and Nantes's away-day specialities, it is difficult to see a clear winner in Thursday's first leg.

Confidence will not exactly be sky-high in the visitors' camp after a morale-depleting final-day defeat, but their four-game winning streak serves as a reminder of what they are capable of when the pressure is on, so we expect the sides to shake hands on a draw before Sunday's return leg.

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