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Nice second after Montpellier point

Montpellier (France) (AFP) – Newly-recruited playmaker Younes Belhanda grabbed a point for Nice in a 1-1 draw at Montpellier with a determined late strike on Sunday meaning his side climb above champions Paris Saint Germain into second place in Ligue 1.

Having come fourth last season, Nice lost their coach Claude Puel to Southampton while Hatem Ben Arfa moved on to PSG.

But with highly-regarded Swiss coach Lucien Favre now in charge, Nice are unbeaten in Ligue 1 so far and have brought in Belhanda on loan from Dynamo Kiev while snapping up Italian striker Mario Balotelli.

The former Liverpool, Man City and AC Milan striker sat out this encounter having played twice in four days, but will be back for Wednesday’s top of the table clash with pacesetters Monaco, who have 13 points to Nice’s 11 and PSG’s 10.

Nice can thank a fine performance from 22-year-old goalkeeper Yoan Cardinale for several fine saves that kept them in the game until his left back Malang Sarr gave away a penalty on 67 minutes, duly converted by Ryad Boudebouz.

Then Belhanda, one of the stars of Montpellier’s staggering Ligue 1 title winning charge of 2012, crowned a solid performance with a tap-in on 85 minutes after the ‘keeper fumbled the ball.

Coming back off a three months injury lay off Belhanda was looking forwards to hosting Monaco.

“It won’t be decisive because the season has just started, but its a kind of derby and its going to be a great match,” he said.

Favre praised Belhanda’s goal saying his side deserved the draw and was happy with a single point given their heavy schedule..

“Coming back into the game with such a good goal shows the our great team spirit. The draw was a fair result.”

“Until Christmas we’ll be heavily rotating players due to the Europa League

A towering Radamel Falcao header helped send Monaco top on Saturday while 20-year-old Thomas Lemar also scored twice at the end of the game.

Falcao’s career has hit the buffers since quitting Atletico Madrid but on Saturday, the 30-year-old Colombian leapt high at the back post and powered in a header in the 42nd minute to score his first goal for Monaco since August 2014 — 755 days ago.

This was Monaco’s seventh consecutive win and followed a slick 2-1 triumph over Tottenham in the Champions League in midweek.

“The favourite to win the title, which will be a long haul, is Paris,” warned Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim.

“Nice, Lyon and Marseille have also invested in their teams, but we are a better side this season, more experienced and organised,” said the Portuguese coach whose side came third last year.

On Friday, Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani banged four goals past Caen in a 6-0 win for PSG.

Lucas Moura and Jean-Kevin Augustin added the other two goals after the break as PSG ended a run of three games without a win in all competitions.

Saint Etienne host Bastia on Sunday but the big game of the weekend takes place at Marseille’s wonderful Velodrome stadium as the struggling giants await the visit of Lyon.

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