Undefeated and sitting second in Ligue 1, OGC Nice have been one of the revelations of the season so far under exciting young Italian manager Francesco Farioli.
Having taken over at the helm of Nice in the summer, it's been nothing short of extraordinary how the 34-year-old tactician has transformed Les Aiglons into a defensively formidable, offensively efficient, and extremely hard-to-beat outfit in such a short amount of time.
Focusing on shoring up the defense, this approach has paid dividends emphatically, for they're yet to go behind in any game, plus have only conceded four goals in their 12 league matches while keeping a remarkable nine clean sheets.
Securing statement wins over Paris Saint-Germain, AS Monaco, Olympique de Marseille and Stade Rennais, the Farioli-led renaissance at Nice is unquestionably restoring some tangible positives after some tough recent times at the Allianz Riviera.
Superbly organised and so difficult to break down, this defensive disciplined and meticulously coached Nice have been such a tough nut to crack for their foes.
Adapting to the opposition smoothly, it's been notable how he's adjusted to varying threats posed by his adversaries both before and during games, as Farioli's typically set up his team in a 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1 or a 5-4-1, where Youssouf Ndayishimiye drops back into the backline in the latter, to prioritize central coverage and compactness.
Masters at knowing when to step up, drop back, shift across and at responding to pressing triggers, such as passes into wide areas and opponents receiving in suboptimal body postures, there's been much to like about how concentrated and on the same page they are collectively and individually.
Very effective at directing opponents away from ideal central areas using the ball as a reference, they have been great at condensing the pitch and forcing turnovers in advanced areas to launch attacks against unset backlines.
Stifling foes soundly, smartly angling their harrying while using their cover shadows to block passing routes and using the touchline as an extra defender, the fact they step up as a team and play with a high line when pressing high further condenses the pitch.
Attentive, balanced, coordinated and fulfilling their responsibilities when defending high and in a mid or low block, the Italian deserves immense credit for implementing his stopping demands so rapidly.
Often opting for man-oriented schemes, but also going for more zonal setups, which sees him intelligently instruct his players to take up positions where they have access to multiple opponents while filling passing lanes, this has enhanced their effectiveness.
Further upside has arisen from their solid counter-pressing once they lose possession, as they look to swiftly regain the ball to reapply pressure on their opponents, who can be caught out preparing for an attack of their own, plus from how their imposing central defenders in Jean-Clair Todibo and Dante and keeper Marcin Bulka deal with a host of threats in the air and on the ground.
While they haven't been as influential in possession and struggled to score at a prolific rate, there are still many positives attached to their work here.
Preferring to build up in a methodical, measured manner, much like one of Farioli's good friends and a key figure in his coaching career, Roberto De Zerbi, Nice have played out from the back with composure and purpose from their base 4-3-3.
Wanting to draw out the opposition and stretch their structure, Nice show admirable patience, as they're always on the lookout to find the free player through neat third-man combinations.
Using their full-backs wisely, they've showcased various ways of outfoxing their adversaries when passing out, which include methods such as keeping the full-backs deep to lure out pressers while giving them good circulation and structural security in case of a turnover, and getting them to tuck inside to bolster the midfield and allow the wide men to be isolated.
The central defenders usually split and can even be lopsided as Bulka sometimes slots into more of a center-halve post, which subsequently causes extra dilemmas for marking animations.
The midfielders also prove their worth, for they can switch things up by adding a double pivot to act as a difference-maker to free up one of the eights to push higher. The energy in midfield from the likes of Khephren Thuram, Hicham Boudaoui and Morgan Sanson has been key too, as they have been dangerous with their electric runs into the final third, helped generate positional and numerical superiorities out wide and got dangerous between the lines.
The high and wide wingers have flexed their muscles as well and relished being isolated 1v1, which has allowed them to enjoy oceans of space to directly attack retreating, backpedaling defenders. While Jeremie Boga is the big name in this area, it's been interesting to see how the physically imposing Gaetan Laborde is used when operating out wide, as he can edge infield to use his striking instincts and aerial prowess to support Terem Moffi and offer an additional excellent target for long balls, to hold the ball up and for crosses into the area.
Moffi's been a major asset also due to his physicality, athleticism, finishing, knowledge of when to check towards the ball to link play and ability to manufacture space in behind when dropping deep.
Such a handful to contain, the strong, powerful and explosive Nigerian international has certainly proven to be a shrewd piece of business on his way to bagging three goals and two assists even though he would like to have found the back of the net more at this stage.
The way they execute neat rotations and interchanges has heightened their menace, as has their massive threat on the counter, which has caught out a host of teams already.
While Farioli knows they're by no means the complete package yet and need improvement in their offensive production (as underlined by the above stats), it's impressive how quickly he's gotten his players to buy into his message and implemented his sophisticated philosophy.
"He's young, he understands players, because he's really young. Tactically he's sound, so we love this, we love working with him and we enjoy playing his style of football," Moffi insisted.
"It's the coach's way of playing," club captain Dante added on the Ligue 1 Show. "That's what he asks of us, that's how we train and that's how we're going to continue to progress. That's the way we play. It's up to us to work on putting those balls away and making things easier for ourselves."
Believing in his principles and getting such exceptional results to match, all the signs are fantastic that this could be the start of something special at Nice. Indeed, it was intriguing to hear Farioli mention what an integral component towards their early success the character and bravery of his players has been. "For me, the thing that's made me most proud has been the spirit because I saw one team of warriors with the ball, without the ball," he assured.
"We try to do our things, to propose our ideas, but really the thing that has made me more happy than all the tactical aspects has been the spirit. I think we start to believe more every day in what we are doing with the ball and without."
Balanced, controlling games coherently with and without possession and showing no real signs of slowing down, it's been a joy to watch Farioli’s Les Aiglons flying high this season and restoring some much-needed happiness to the club after enduring their fair share of recent turmoil.