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 is creating small miracles at Nice in Ligue 1

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His time as coach of Nice started off bumpy, awkward even that included losses, draws and a lack of back bone within the side. Patrick Vieira’s time looked up even after just a month, as another 1990s generation player that got found out when it came to stepping up as manager.

But Vieira has worked hard and worked his mentality and theory into his group of players. He even has Mario Balotelli playing well and the two of them have respect for one another and get along fine. More than that Nice are winning games and have headed up the table. Their objective this season was to do well enough to stay in the league. Now their objective will be to finish in a European spot and who would think that wouldn’t happen?

The club currently sit in 7th place and have won 4 games in a row. On form they would be in 3rd place in the league- that is astonishing when you think Vieira still has limited first time management experience and at this point the capture of the former French and Arsenal midfield legend looks like a good call from Nice.

Nice’s most recent victory raised eyebrows as it came against Lille who have been superb this season but Nice ran out 2-0 solid and deserved winners. Vieira said: ”I’m satisfied with the score and the way we played. Against a very good Lille side, we managed to play the perfect home game. Even if they had chances in the first half, we didn’t really suffer in the second half. The team is more solid than at the start of the season and the players played for each other. Mario Balotelli and Allan Saint-Maximin put in a huge amount of work defensively and that’s why I took them off.”

Vieira mentioned the word perfect and that is what Nice have been in the past four weekends. Next they will face Guingamp in a game they will be expected to win again.

For Vieira being black and being in management is one thing. Sadly the story in 2018 is that black managers are grossly under represented at this level. The good news is that Vieira is proving his worth and hopefully more ex black players who decide to get into management will have the opportunities that Vieira has. Right now he is flying the flag high just as high as his Nice team.

Thierry Henry gets first win with Monaco but a testing month awaits

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Thierry Henry finally achieved his first win as Monaco coach after his side beat Caen 1-0 at the weekend. It was a deserved victory too and means that Henry could celebrate for the first time in 7 games.

Monaco are still in the bottom three but there was a huge sense of relief after the win from the players and Henry. It meant so much and means that Henry’s win rate leaped up to 14%. After the game Henry said: “I am happy for the team and the supporters. We needed that, even if we were not completely in control of the match. We could have been out of sight sooner, and in football you don’t know what can happen. Caen like to get crosses in quickly, they fight, and we knew what to expect. The manner in which we get results is important, but we will worry about that later. (Radamel) Falcao showed that he is Falcao. He is the captain, he is there to score goals.”

Henry also realised what lies ahead for the club in the coming weeks. “We went out and got this victory, and it can help bring us some peace. It is always better when you win, but we are not getting carried away. This is just the beginning. There are still lots of matches and battles to come. I am especially happy for the squad, for all the work they have put in and not been rewarded, but we are still in the relegation zone.”

Henry talked about battles ahead and he is exactly right on that point. It all commences for Henry and Monaco this Wednesday when they must travel to Spain in the Champions League to face Atletico Madrid, Monaco can be quoted at 16/1 to win the game which pretty much says it all. There is some hope for a Europa League spot for the side but even those hopes may seem faint after this game.

After that Monaco return to Ligue 1 action against Montpellier who have been in fine form so far. They play Amiens away which could be a possible win and then come the 3 really hard fixtures. Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Lyon. Monaco will also face Nice in what is always a special derby and this season will have the extra spice of Henry going head to head with his old Arsenal teammate Patrick Vieira, who is doing very well with Nice.

If Monaco can get something from these games then we will know if Henry can and has created some sort of turnaround miracle. The Caen win has given Henry reasons to be cheerful but he will want that momentum to continue. A defeat looks inevitable against Atletico in a few days but that game will be all about not getting stuffed for many goals and keeping the score predictable. The next 3 weeks will be a fascinating time at Monaco, that is for sure.

Why Thierry Henry will fail at Monaco and could be gone by Christmas

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Thierry Henry has had a miserable start to life as coach of Monaco after no wins in his first six games in charge. It wasn’t supposed to be like this and the script was supposed to be written a little better for the French footballing legend, but that isn’t the case and it seems clear why Henry’s time at Monaco is already numbered.

Let’s be clear of course and first focus on why Henry is up against it. And that is easy to answer given the quality that has been sold from Monaco in the past few seasons. That is why the club were in the bottom three when Henry joined and former coach Leonardo Jardim was sacked, even though he won the title in 2017 and broke the PSG stranglehold on Ligue 1.

But the main reason Henry is in trouble is because he is a great player. In his playing days at Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal and Barcelona we remember a player that attacked and scored many fantastic goals. Especially at Arsenal and Barcelona he was encouraged to play beautiful free flowing, quick paced attacking football. And that is his downfall as a coach, because he wants the same from Monaco. With the squad gutted though this is impossible this season, what could have been possible two years ago where indeed Monaco were scoring for fun.

Henry needs to work on defence if Monaco are going to stay in Ligue 1 and if he is going to keep his job. Truth is though is that it isn’t in Henry’s DNA to concentrate fully on this department, after all he was a natural attacking player who was then turned into a deadly striker by Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

It seems that Monaco’s nightmare under Henry will be set to continue because he will have the belief that this team can fight their way out of trouble- which simply isn’t true and they will more than likely continue to leak goals. They have conceded 8 goals in their last 2 games without reply, and both were at home.

Their next game is away against Caen in Ligue 1, a tricky side and a tough task. But then it doesn’t get any easier for Henry as his side will travel afterwards to Spain to play Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. With the likes of having to play Borussia Dortmund, Lyon and a derby in December against Nice, Monaco surely look doomed. It may not even be a case of Henry being sacked but of him simply leaving. Henry simply wasn’t ready for such a job that was laced in nostalgia. Recovery at this point would be the greatest achievement of Henry’s career.

Thomas Tuchel’s version of PSG is set to be the best ever

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When PSG strolled to a 3-0 victory over Nice at the end of September it seemed to go by without much fuss and why should it as everyone expected the champions to win the game. However more fuss and attention should have surrounded this historic result. In beating Patrick Vieira’s team, PSG had just equalled an 82 year old Ligue 1 record by winning their first 8 games of the season.

The record was held by Lille in the 1935/36 season and had stood for that long despite PSG being dominant in France since their takeover from the 2011/12 season onwards. In order to break the record the club from Paris would have to play an old foe in Lyon. Lyon of course dominated French football themselves in the 2000s winning 7 titles in a row and whilst they are a team now playing second fiddle to PSG they still would not have been chosen as the team you had to beat to break an historic record.

A few weeks ago this Lyon side had travelled to Manchester in the Champions League and stunned Manchester City by beating them and they had started to pick up form and points in the domestic league. But the match would be held in Paris where PSG have simply been irresistible.

Ninety minutes later PSG had not only broken the record they had done it in style by beating a genuine league rival 5-0. PSG had just won 9 games in a row thanks to a Neymar goal and a stunning performance by Kylian Mbappe who scored 4 goals in 13 glorious minutes to break another Ligue 1 record.

One has to wonder if, under current coach Thomas Tuchel, PSG have their best team since their takeover and indeed they are proving wholeheartedly to have the best team ever in Ligue 1 history.

The club have 27 points after just 9 games and their nearest challenger is Lille who are 8 points behind on 19. The only team to stop PSG’s title runs have been Monaco who won in 2017 and they are already 21 points behind. PSG are scoring almost 4 goals a game and at home they have scored 19 times from just 5 games and conceded just 2. The team are on fire and have a belief in breaking records and winning the league in record time.

Of course the wider view will be that their season will be judged on how well they do in the Champions League. They were unfairly criticised when they lost to Liverpool 3-2 in their opening game of the competition. Many teams will lose at a packed out and atmospheric Anfield- what will count more for Tuchel will be how his side react when they play Liverpool in Paris. And PSG were clearly not at their best that night and yet came back from 2-0 down and could have drawn the game. The team remains a real danger to any side in Europe.

However they have historically made too many errors and a bad lack of judgement in the competition against the better teams. But if PSG can play like this then they have every chance of going very far in this seasons edition of the competition.

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?

 

 

Marseille cannot afford to become obsessed by Balotelli pursuit

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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 fantasy picks for week 37

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Here are the players we tip to make an impact in this week’s Ligue 1 action!

Anthony Lopes, Lyon – 63 points

Having been at Lyon for 18 years, Lopes is something of a legendary figure at the club nowadays.

The French-born Portuguese keeper will be hoping to add to a haul of 14 clean sheets across the campaign as target what would be a highly impressive second placed finish.

 Djibril Sidibe, Monaco – 30 points

With his side facing the challenge of an off form Troyes, he will be looking to deliver a big performance on the weekend as he targets a potential place at the World Cup. Continue reading

Ligue 1 picks of the week

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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