Marseille cannot afford to become obsessed by Balotelli pursuit


As Marseille fans continue to be frustrated by their club’s lack of transfer activity, Les Olympiens’ long-running pursuit of Mario Balotelli is in danger of undermining the good work done by Andoni Zubizarreta and Rudi Garcia over the past 18 months. Despite the fact they have been in negotiations with Nice and the player’s agent, Mino Raiola, for several weeks, there is still no end in sight to this summer’s most protracted deal. Continue reading

Ligue 1 picks of the week


With plenty still to play for as we hit the Ligue 1 run in, here are the players we tip to make a splash in the 33rd round of action.

Anthony Lopes, Lyon – 51 points

The French-born Portuguese international sees his name in our picks for the weekend for the third consecutive week as his side face an inconsistent Amiens.

With 12 clean sheets to his name, Lopes could well be in line for some additional points come the weekend.

Joris Gnagnon, Rennes – 40 points

The Rennes academy product has been a valuable member of the Rennes defence in what has been an impressive campaign for the side.

With nine clean sheets to his name, the 21-year-old may well be a target for some of the league’s established top clubs come the summer. Continue reading

Ligue 1 picks for the weekend’s action


Take a look at the players we tip to make an impact on their side’s fortunes as some fresh Ligue 1 action kicks off this weekend!

Anthony Lopes, Lyon – 44 points

The Portuguese international sees his name in our picks for the weekend for the second consecutive week having secured a clean sheet last time out.

With his side playing strugglers Metz this time around, Lopez will be hoping to add to his haul of 11 once again.

Djibril Sidibe, Monaco 36 points

With his side facing an off form Nantes, who suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat last time out, Continue reading

Our XI for the Ligue 1 action ahead


Some tough Ligue 1 fixtures greet us this weekend, with fixtures that could influence both the battles for relegation and the Champions League spots.

With that in mind, we take a look at the players that are likely to shine across some of these big fixtures – with stars from PSG, Monaco and Nice filling a number of the berths.

Continue reading

Weekend returns a welcome sight for Conte


Serie A resumed over the weekend after stepping aside for Euro 2016 qualifiers, where Antonio Conte’s Italy picked up two unimposing wins to go top of Group H. In Florence this past Saturday and in Milan a day later, Round 3 action saw two players involved which would have heightened the Italy tactician’s interest.

Italy, 18 points, are in pole position to qualify for France following single-goal victories over Malta and Bulgaria. A win next month against Azerbaijan could seal qualification. But Conte’s Italy have stuttered throughout, not really looking convincing.

The attack is causing most concern, with Italy unable to close-out matches. Conte’s attacking stocks are the weakest mustered up on the peninsula in decades. The forward line took a combined nine international goals into last week. Graziano Pelle netted his third in the win over Malta.

Not that it’s a recent phenomenon. Cesare Prandelli’s last two years in charge were met with similar issues.

Leonardo Bonucci admitted after the latter victory that Italy “lack the clinical finishing to kill off this type of game.” Since Euro 2012, Italy have scored more than twice in a game only four times – against Armenia and Denmark in World Cup qualifiers, in a friendly against San Marino and versus Japan at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Fiorentina boss Paulo Sousa’s declaration before facing Genoa that “whoever comes to the Artemio Franchi will see him [Giuseppe Rossi] starting” must have been music to Conte’s ears. After playing an hour on Saturday, Rossi stated he ‘felt good’ and was ‘happy’. It was his first start since May 2014.

So long beset by injury, Rossi has never gone to an international tournament. He and Mario Balotelli – seven and 13 goals for Italy respectively – were seen as a partnership to lead Italy for years at the start of Prandelli’s reign. Rossi’s problems have been physical, Balotelli psychological.

The striker rejoined Milan after an ill-fated spell at Liverpool. He came off the bench as the Rossoneri trailed in the Derby della Madonnina against Inter. Super Mario was unable to rescue a point, although twice came close. It was a promising start.

The pair still have a way to go before they can be considered by Conte. Rossi hopes his injury woes are finally behind him, while Conte said a Balotelli return depends on the player. Playing regularly for their clubs is the next step. Yet given Italy’s struggles, their returns are a welcome boost.

Is Mario Balotelli already bound for Liverpool exit?

Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli has been in the headlines again this week, thanks in part to swapping shirts at half-time, and also for arguably the much more important issue of disappearing match after match.

In fact since his highly publicised £16m move from AC Milan to Anfield, Balotelli is yet to break his duck domestically, from six appearances – his only goal coming late on against Ludogorets in the Champions League.

But his poor form is not new to Mario – including a poor end to the season in Northern Italy, and a disastrous World Cup outing for the striker in Brazil, Balotelli has only scored two goals in his last 20 games in all competitions – Strike partner Daniel Sturridge has eight, while Balotelli’s replacement in the Azzurri set-up, Graziano Pelle, has 15 in 20 matches.

In short, it’s easy to see why he has been dropped from the national team (without going into arguments with senior members of the squad, and the Coach), and why there is already talk of an Anfield exit, most likely in the Summer.

While goalscoring has been non-existent for Balo, just as frustrating for manager Brendan Rodgers will be the lack of teamwork and passing – teammate Raheem Sterling is noticeably frustrated in recent games, and has been seen complaining to his attacking partner. Adam Lallana also was visibly frustrated with the Italian’s exploits against QPR (where he had seven shots). As Michael Owen tweeted, “Most worrying thing is his teammates’ body language towards him… Once you lose their respect it’s a big struggle.”

It is by no means the end for Balotelli, but he is seemingly drinking at the last-chance saloon, and his inability to make him indispensable at any top club could soon see him move down a level, possibly to a club where scrutiny will be reduced, something that might suit him. One thing we have learned in recent years however, is never to make predictions about Mario Balotelli.