Mancini Makes Questionable Choices in The Final Third

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Since being appointed Italy boss after the World Cup debacle, Roberto Mancini has done well to implement a distinct style of play, and identify key players for his setup moving forward. With the defence and midfield all but set, barring a few adjustments, the attack remains Mancini’s last puzzle. While the former Inter tactician has introduced the likes of Federico Chiesa and Moise Kean into the fold, some of Mancini’s choices in the final third have been questionable, to say the least.

In Mancini’s latest selections, Vincenzo Grifo and Leonardo Pavoletti both got the call to represent their nation. The latter, a 30-year-old mid-table journeyman, won’t be on the international scene for much longer and failed at the only big club he was at, while Grifo has only played eight games in league action this season thus far for Freiburg and has never demonstrated to be anything more than a decent squad player.

After years of struggling for options in the final third, Mancini is finally blessed with various talents in the attacking department, be it with Bernardeschi, Chiesa, and Kean among others. Now is not the time to experiment with players who are on the wrong side of 30 or haven’t been consistent in front of goal.

Regardless of their form this season, neither Pavoletti or Grifo will represent Italy next summer, and neither deserves to take valuable experience away from the nation’s budding forwards. What is more puzzling is that the in-form Andrea Belotti was left home, despite his recent resurgence.

The Torino forward has lead the line exceptionally well, and has propelled I Granata into an unlikely race for European football. While he’s had better goal tallies in past seasons, Belotti has become a more well-rounded forward under Walter Mazzarri and is ready for another go on the international scene. At 25 years old, Il Gallo is about to enter the prime of his career, and is an excellent option for Mancini.

Another player who could have also gotten the call ahead of Pavoletti and Grifo was Mario Balotelli. Despite some previous attitude concerns, Supermario’s has been Italy’s most consistent forward over the years, and has done well in Marseille, scoring four goals in his last six games. Mancini had this to say about Balotelli’s exclusion.

“Balotelli still isn’t in peak condition, he’s improving but I expect a lot from him and he can improve further. In general, all of the technical players are improving and this is comforting for me.” (Source: Twitter – @Azzurri)

The reality is that, much like Balotelli, Grifo hasn’t played much for Freiburg, and yet still received a call-up. Had Mancini cited previous indiscipline as his reason, it would have made Balotelli’s exclusion understandable. Regardless, Supermario deserves one more run with the Nazionale, and will likely get the chance next time around.

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While Mancini has done relatively well at blending youth with experience, another player who should have, at the very least, been part of the training camp is Milan’s Patrick Cutrone. Since breaking onto the scene, the Milan forward has demonstrated all the raw abilities of a top forward, and has a knack for being at the right place at the right time.

At just 21 years old, Cutrone, alongside Juventus’ Moise Kean, are easily Mancini’s best long-term bets. Since Krzysztof Piatek’s arrival, however, Cutrone has found playing time hard to come by. Despite this, he deserves a shot with the national team, and could prove useful at the upcoming Euros if given consistent playing time.

Moving forward, Mancini can’t keep turning to the likes of Pavoletti and Grifo as they are taking away development time from Italy’s potential, long-term number nines. Let’s face it, neither will make the final squad while Belotti, Balotelli and Cutrone all have a great shot. The ball’s now in Mancini’s court.

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Mario Balotelli’s romance with Ligue 1 football is coming to an end

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The very talented and often misunderstood though egomaniac Mario Balotelli is set to leave Nice after spending almost 3 seasons with the club. It seems that there may have been a confrontation with new manager this season Patrick Vieira, although that has not been confirmed.

What we do know is that this season will very likely be Balotelli’s last in France and certainly last with Nice. The club are understood to want to sell the Italian player this month to cash in on him for small fee. Otherwise he will be free to leave in the summer for nothing.

Balotelli finally seemed to settle down in France where he had become a cult figure with Nice. The club had not only improved since his arrival in 2016 but he also scored goals. On his debut season in the league he scored 15 from just 23 games. In all competitions he has played 76 games and scored 43 goals which anyway you look at it is a terrific return. Balotelli proved that in Ligue 1 at least he still had the magic despite the usual baggage that comes with him.

Vieira and Nice have frozen the player out for much of this season where he has played just 10 games and has yet to score. Has there been a coming together between player and coach? One thing is for certain and that is the summer fiasco that Balotelli was involved in. Before the season started it looked like Marseille would buy Balotelli and he deal came very close but in the end never happened. The problem though was that as a result Balotelli missed most of pre season and training and did not come in fresh, this could be another reason that Vieira has been indifferent to the player.

So if Balotelli is to leave Nice and possibly France what could be next for a player who is 28 and still has a good 4-5 seasons ahead of him? A return to Italy could be out of the question, every time he has played their he has been sadly subjected to racist chants.

Perhaps he will come back to the Premier League He has divided a few fans since he has played for both Manchester City and Liverpool and getting a chance to play with some of the bigger teams will probably not be an option.

However a team near the bottom of the league could well do with Balotelli- as long as the coach strikes up a friendship with him, then Balotelli has proven that he can be a deadly striker and he could end up saving a team from relegation. If so a move could happen in the next few days. For now though it looks like au revoir to Balotelli’s career in France, which is slightly sad given that it seemed the French air and regime had indeed calmed the player down.

Patrick Vieira faces uncertain times in his new job

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Newly-appointed Nice manager Patrick Vieira has endured a terrible start to life in his new job in Ligue 1. Three games into the new season, Nice have picked up a solitary point and they currently sit 18th in the table. In the process, Nice have managed to score only one goal while they have managed to concede six goals.

It’s still early days for Vieira at Nice, but his side’s 4-0 home defeat to Dijon last weekend has raised alarms at the club. Nice have also lost to Stade Reims in a home fixture this season. Continue reading

Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira’s nightmare in France continues

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French music legend Johnny Hallyday once sung ‘It’s a long way home, in the night alone’ which could well have reflected Patrick Vieira’s mood at the Allianz Riviera on Saturday evening. His players shattered, confused and outplayed had just been dished out a 4-0 defeat. But their opponents had not been PSG, Monaco or Lyon but Dijon who, a few seasons ago, were playing their football in Ligue 2.

Vieira who is usually very calm and upbeat looked like a broken man at the side lines as he witnessed another inept display that means he is still waiting for his first win as Nice manager. This result followed a shock loss at home against newly promoted Reims, then soon after his team were heading for defeat away to Caen before finding an equaliser in the final ten minutes of the game. But with this Dijon defeat the club are now in 17th place and have conceded 6 goals, on average 2 a game. Only Angers with 8 have shipped more and their currently bottom of the league.

Last season Nice won 15 games and finished in 8th place and Vieira was brought in after his 2 year tenure from MLS side New York City. It seemed like the perfect fit, Vieira a French football legend in charge of a French Ligue 1 club and it was also very refreshing to see that a top tier team were appointing a black manager. So what gives and why have Nice got off to such a terrible start in the league?

The first warning sign was when the club were willing to listen for offers for their forward Alessane Plea. A player who had scored 21 goals in all competitions last season including 16 in the league. The former Lyon player had also struck up a working relationship with fellow forward Mario Balotelli. In the end Plea rejected moving to the Premier League where West Ham and Newcastle were offering him a kings ransom in wages and instead chose the Bundesliga and signed for Borussia Monchengladbach for a reported 25m euros.

Plea’s sale was good business for a club like Nice, but only in monetary terms, and the sale on the face of it seemed like an odd one. And then we turn our attentions to Balotelli the other half of Nice’s strike force who scored 26 goals last season and has in some ways rejuvenated his career at Nice. If nothing else he has been at his most consistent in the south of France. The problem is that consistency for Balotelli is two sides of the coin and that means his negative side so for the third time at the club he was suspended. This meant missing the first 3 games of the new season.

For Vieira he has been able to play a front three at home which he prefers. However this includes pushing Allan Saint-Maximin up front but he’s in reality more suited to a midfield role. Vieira will be able to roll the dice once more next week when Balotelli will be available to him and surely he will pick the Italian.

Nice need a lift and goals, who thought that responsibility would fall to Balotelli who once when playing in England needed help to put a football bib on. But the truth is Balotelli would relish such a challenge to help his club and cheer up the fans who he has a special relationship with.

As for Vieira whether he can turn around the clubs negativity is yet to be seen. But in France there is talk that another French legend Thierry Henry is set to take over at Bordeaux and we could witness two ex Arsenal team mates coming head to head as managers in France. The thought seems mouth watering, the question is, will Vieira still be there to witness that himself?

 

 

Plea hits four as he secures Ligue 1 Player of the Week

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This week’s Ligue 1 player of the week award is bestowed upon Alassane Plea of Nice, whose blockbuster performance saw him bag four goals and 18 points as Les Aiglons breezes past a lacklustre Guingamp side on their journey to Stade de Roudourou.

With Mario Balotelli out of action, Plea was tasked with the duty of leading the Nice line and replacing a goal scorer that has netted an impressive 14 in 18 this season.

Any concerns that the Nice fans may have had prior to the Continue reading

Our picks ahead of the weekend’s Ligue 1 action

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The usual suspects star heavily in our picks of the week for the 26th round of Ligue 1 action – check out our top tips as you prepare your side for the next game day!

Steve Mandanda, Marseille

It’s testament to his mental strength that he’s returned from a mixed season at Crystal Palace and slotted straight back into the Marseille side.

With 45 points thanks in large to his 11 clean sheets, Mandanda will undoubtedly believe that his return to his homeland was an inspired decision.

Lucas Lima, Nantes

The pacey left back has been a revelation under the guidance of Claudio Ranieri and a key figure in the side’s excellent run.

His three assists and one goal have helped him onto an impressive 37 points this season and his attacking output could be critical if his side are to beat Nice. Continue reading

Has Balotelli earned a move back to a top European club?

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It was the summer of 2016. Mario Balotelli had just ended his disastrous spell at AC Milan, and it appeared that the Italian striker is finished at top-level football.

With no interest from major clubs in Europe forthcoming, Balotelli ended up signing a one-year deal with Ligue 1 side Nice on the transfer deadline day. It proved to be arguably the best decision of the player’s career.

Under constant spotlight in England, Balotelli had become sort of a Bad Boy of football. Nice are far from being a major force in Europe, but the club provided a perfect opportunity to Balotelli to rediscover his hunger for the game without the constant judgement from the media. Continue reading

Mario Balotelli: Ligue 1 player of the week

The Euro Fantasy League Ligue 1 player of the week accolade is this week awarded to the efforts of OSC Nice’s domineering centre forward Mario Balotelli, whose goal scoring efforts during his side’s 2-2 away draw to last season’s champions Monaco saw him collect a respectable haul of seven fantasy football points.

Continue reading

Nice go clear as French Ligue 1 is shaping up to be the best in years

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It was a weekend in France where you had to catch your breath on several occasions. Surprise league leaders Nice won again, all conquering Monaco fell to pieces at home to Lyon and then the shocks of shocks was seeing PSG lose again this time to Guingamp who have a population of roughly 7,000 souls.

First to Nice who as expected overcame Dijon in the south of France with the help of a returning Mario Balotelli who scored both of their goals in a 2-1 win. Balotelli has been a reinvented player since swapping the Premier League for Ligue 1 and it is for now paying dividends for Nice. The club has now pulled out a four point lead at the top and have lost just once all season. They will be looking to win the league for the first time in almost 60 years.

Monaco took on Lyon meanwhile and whilst this has in recent years been one of the stand out fixtures and closest, Monaco were expected to win. But Lyon who have had plenty of their own troubles this season rewound the clock back a decade to when they dominated the league and there was only ever going to be one winner.

The visitors were in total control from the first minute and a lacklustre and off key Monaco who had averaged 3 goals a game going into this were soundly beaten 3-1. To add salt to the wounds Benjamin Mendy was given a straight red card and will now miss the next three league fixtures.

And then there is PSG, a team who are undoubtedly a shadow of themselves from last season. This time last year PSG had an 11 point advantage at the top now they find themselves in 3rd place and 7 points adrift of Nice. Their 4th defeat of the season and two in the last three games came at the hands of Guingamp who themselves are having a terrific season. It took the French champions to go two goals down before we saw any kind of reaction. With ten minutes to go Edinson Cavani who is having an outstanding last few weeks pulled a goal back. But it was all in vain. PSG have now gone 3 matches without a win and the pressure is mounting on coach Unai Emery, with some suggesting a loss against Lorient in midweek will spell the end of his short term in charge of the Parisians.

Finally we shouldn’t forget about the 2010 champions Marseille who have re-awoken after a slumber start, they now have 3 wins in a row under their belt and are serious contenders to hunt for a European place.

With recent seasons being dominated by PSG and then before by Lyon this one is really turning out to be something else. There are three genuine contenders for the title in Nice, Monaco and PSG and as this weekend has proven any one of them can lose in any given game. All of a sudden Ligue 1 has become exciting and unpredictable and that can only be a major plus in a league which has been crying out for this since the turn of the century.

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