PARIS, France, Sep 21 – Controversial star Mario Balotelli continued his fine start to life on the French Riviera by helping fire Nice to the top of Ligue 1 on Wednesday.
The Italy international scored his second brace in as many league appearances for Nice in a 4-0 thumping of local rivals Monaco to leap-frog champions Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the table.
The often wayward 26-year-old now has four goals in three games since he joined the Cote d’Azur outfit on a free transfer from Liverpool, where his career had stalled over the last couple of years.
It means in his two league appearances this season, Balotelli has already scored twice as many goals as he did in league matches over the previous two seasons combined — he scored once in 20 Serie A appearances on loan at AC Milan last season and one in 16 Premier League matches for Liverpool the previous campaign.
“Long may it continue,” said Nice goalscorer Paul Baysse of Balotelli’s start.
“He’s a great player who also works hard for the team. He tries hard and he has the right mentality.
“Everyone knows he’s a good player, that he’s managing to buy into the team spirit is great for everyone.”
Balotelli had also scored a brace on his league debut for Nice in a 3-2 victory over another south coast rival in fallen giants Marseille.
The striker had already had a low shot saved by Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic when Nice took the lead on 17 minutes as Baysse headed home a Jean Seri free-kick.
The errant Italian then ran onto a pinpoint through ball from Nice’s other marquee summer signing on loan from Dynamo Kiev, Morocco international Younes Belhanda, before firing across Subasic into the far corner on the half hour.
– Crisp finish –
It could have been two for Balotelli before half-time but Subasic stuck out a foot to divert away the former Inter Milan and Manchester City striker’s left-foot effort from a tight angle.
His second came in the 68th minute following a sweeping move down the right between Ricardo Pereira and Wylan Cyprien, before Balotelli provided a crisp finish from the edge of the box.
He then went off 10 minutes later to a standing ovation.
That denied him a hat-trick chance after Tiemoue Bakayoko, who was sent off, conceded a penalty with a foul on Valentin Eysseric seven minutes from time.
Subasic saved substitute Alassane Plea’s spot-kick but Nice did not have to wait long for their fourth as Plea, who had replaced Balotelli, headed home a Cyprien cross four minutes from time.
The defeat dropped Monaco to third, level on points with PSG and a point behind Nice.
Bordeaux are fourth after romping to a 3-0 win at Metz with goals from Malcolm, Gaetan Laborde and Isaac Kiese Thelin.
Lyon climbed to seventh as Nabil Fekir and Corentin Tolisso scored a brace each in a 5-1 thrashing of Montpellier, who were leading 1-0 through Morgan Sanson’s fourth minute strike before they had Morgan Poaty sent off on eight minutes.
Late goals from Kamil Grosicki, from the penalty spot, and Adrien Hunou gave Rennes a come-from-behind 3-2 win over Marseille.
With four minutes left, Marseille led 2-1 thanks to a Bafetimbi Gomis brace but were down to 10 men after Zinedine Machach had been dismissed.
But the former European champions couldn’t hold on and slumped to a third straight away defeat that leaves them a point above the relegation zone.
PSG cruised to a 3-0 win over Dijon on Tuesday as Unai Emery’s team continued their recent improvement after a sticky start under the Spanish coach, who replaced Laurent Blanc in the summer.
Uruguay international forward Edinson Cavani netted a penalty between an own goal and a header from Brazilian Lucas as Emery left high-profile summer signing Hatem Ben Arfa out of his squad for the third time in a row.