Balotelli stirs Nice hopes of fairytale finish

Nice (France) (AFP) – Nice fans are dreaming of seeing their Mario Balotelli-fuelled underdogs do a Leicester and steal the French title from the likes of crisis-stricken Paris Saint-Germain.

Balotelli’s double in a 2-1 victory over Dijon on Sunday ensured Nice will go into the winter break on top of Ligue 1, and victory over Bordeaux on Wednesday would only add to the embarrassment of their well-heeled rivals.

Balotelli, so often the misfit in England and his native Italy, has now scored eight goals in eight games in an injury shortened half-season.

The Cote d’Azur side have also benefited from the sensational form of Alasane Plea, 23, who has hit 10 goals. Dante, the former Bayern Munich stalwart, has been a rock in defence.

Nice have lost only once in 18 games and are four points ahead of Monaco and seven in front of PSG. So is the championship possible?

“Without injuries, without European competition, without the League Cup, why not?” said former Olympique Marseille and Bordeaux coach Rolland Courbis.

Despite their hot Ligue 1 form, Nice have crashed out of the Europa League and France’s League Cup. Monaco and PSG are both still going for the Champions League as well as all domestic trophies.

“Nice remind me of what we saw with Leicester last year,” said Toulouse coach Pascal Dupraz.

“They are dynamic, fresh, they have good technique and well-marshalled players. You can see that Nice have gone up a gear,” he added after his side were beaten by the surprise leaders earlier this month.

Leicester City were helped by weaknesses exposed in the Premier League’s big-spending giants, and Nice have also taken advantage of PSG’s disastrous start to the season. 

Their four defeats so far, the latest at Guingamp on Sunday, have left PSG coach Unai Emery worrying about his job.

– Safety assured –

Nice coach Lucien Favre is following the example of Leicester counterpart Claudio Ranieri and refusing to discuss winning the title.

“We have 43 points, we are safe (from relegation),” he joked after the Dijon win.

Favre can see the practical and tactical minefield ahead — Balotelli played as a solo centre forward against Dijon, forcing Plea out onto the wing, a position he does not like.

“The truth is it’s difficult,” said Favre. “Mario scored braces against Marseille, Monaco and now Dijon as a lone centre forward. Alassane scored nine of his 10 goals when Mario was absent. That’s it!” he added with a smile.

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