Balotelli proves value once more as Nice beats Nantes 4-1

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Mario Balotelli fur­ther un­der­lined his real value since join­ing Nice on a free trans­fer, scor­ing his sixth goal in five league games as the French leader thrashed Nantes 4-1 on Sun­day.

The Ital­ian striker was also di­rectly in­volved in two other goals as sur­prise leader Nice main­tained its six-point lead over de­fend­ing cham­pion Paris Saint-Ger­main.

Balotelli’s im­pact has been sig­nif­i­cant, and not just for his goals.

“Mario has been track­ing back more,” Nice coach Lu­cien Favre said. “That’s pos­i­tive.”

The Nice fans al­ready have a chant for Balotelli - “La, la, la, la, la, la, la, Su-per Mar-io” - in sweet mu­sic for Balotelli to hear af­ter two dif­fi­cult sea­sons.

Balotelli’s un­happy time at Liver­pool came to end when the English club sent him on loan to AC Mi­lan last sea­son his for­mer club - but he got only one goal in 20 league games.

The sea­son be­fore that, he man­aged only one league goal for Liver­pool in 16 games.

When he joined Nice, for­mer Liver­pool de­fender Jamie Car­ragher - a re­spected stal­wart with more than 700 ap­pear­ances for the English club sar­cas­ti­cally tweeted that a free trans­fer was still “over the odds” for Balotelli.

Seven goals in seven games so far - the other was in the Europa League - strongly sug­gests oth­er­wise.

Balotelli’s goal ra­tio is even more im­pres­sive given that he is short of full fit­ness and has oc­ca­sional mus­cle in­juries, mean­ing that he does not al­ways play the full 90 min­utes. He was given a rous­ing ova­tion when he came off in the 74th minute, by which time Nice was 4-1 up.

Balotelli played a part in the opener, scored by mid­fielder Wy­lan Cy­prien in the 10th minute.

Younes Bel­handa picked out Balotelli’s run and, although he was closed down, the ball broke loose in the area and fell for Cy­prien.

Balotelli made it 2-0 in the 26th.

Ivory Coast mid­fielder Jean Michael Seri hit a su­perb loop­ing pass to Balotelli, who held off a de­fender be­fore guid­ing the ball past goal­keeper Remy Riou with the out­side of his foot.

“Mario con­trolled it su­perbly for his goal,” Favre said.

Alas­sane Plea, a highly promis­ing striker, added the third goal - his seventh of the sea­son.

Then, Balotelli played a key part in the fourth, flick­ing a su­perbly timed pass through to Por­tuguese left back Ri­cardo Pereira as he broke down the wing, and Cy­prien drove the ball home from Pereira’s pass.

“We’re win­ning in style,” said Favre, who was hired this sum­mer af­ter Claude Puel left to take charge of Premier League side Southamp­ton.

Nice fin­ished fourth last sea­son on lim­ited re­sources, but looks like do­ing much bet­ter this time.

Nice for­ward Mario Balotelli

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