Lille secure Champions League football and Neymar redeems himself ahead of PSG ban

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It’s been a tough month for PSG star Neymar who learned that he would receive a 3 game Champions League ban next season for being critical of match officials when PSG lost to Manchester United. Then the Brazilian was handed a 3 game ban by Ligue 1 after he hit out at a fan at the end of the Coupe de France final. PSG are appealing on that, but he was on target to open the scoring as PSG beat Angers 2-1 at the weekend.

It was Neymar’s 15th goal of the season which with his long term injury considered is a decent return. The win was also PSG’s 2nd win in 5 games as they have gone through the worst form of their season in the last month which included losing in the final of the Coupe de France to Rennes. Of course they became champions weeks ago and the players seem to have switched off but the win away to Angers was still an important one.

The big news came from Lille and saw the side secure their Champions League place for next season after they beat Bordeaux 1-0. They will almost certainly finish 2nd but even if they lost their last two games and Lyon won their next two, they would finish 3rd which would still be good for the qualifying stages, but the odds are looking great for them to finish in the runners up spot. The Bordeaux victory was the clubs 19th of the season.

Lyon went away to Marseille and secured a brilliant 3-0 win to give them a huge advantage in finishing the season in 3rd place and possible Champions League for next season. Playing at Stade Velodrome was no mean task and the game was loaded with tension throughout. Maxwell Cornet who has been brilliant for the team this season scored a brace and was the eventual hero. Lyon remains 6 points behind Lille but have now pulled four points clear of Saint Etienne.

Saint Etienne who had won 4 games on the bounce really had to win at home to Montpellier but they were downed by a Gaetan Laborde goal, which more or less ended their Champions League hopes. They would have to win their last 2 games and hope that Lyon lost both or lost one and drew one and that seems unlikely.

Could Montpellier pip Saint Etienne for that final Europa League place though? The club at least gave themselves a chance by beating the club at the weekend but they are still 4 points adrift and it looks like, despite their heroics, that they will just miss out.

Marseille certainly will as they have just 55 points and the best they can hope for now is to finish in 5th place. The club started strongly this season only to fade away in the winter months and then bounce back again soon after. But they look to be going through poor form once again and have no wins in their last 3 games.

Any European football officially ended for Nice this past weekend but they still pulled off a decent 1-1 draw against Nantes who came into that game having won 5 matches in a row including wins over PSG, Lyon and Marseille. That was the 11th draw this season for Nice though, just 3 of those matches converted into wins and the team would be challenging for Europe.

And Nimes continued their fine form by beating Monaco 1-0, that’s 3 wins from their last four games and they took advantage of Reims poor form to move 3 points clear of them and firmly establish 8th place. Nimes could finish as high as 6th if their form continues and others drop points around them.

Finally matchday 36 was one that saw referees having to work over time with no less than 6 red cards dished out. Four of those to top 8 sides and a few players will have played their last games of the campaign for their respective clubs.

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Lille set for runners up spot as Saint Etienne close the gap on Lyon

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PSG remained 16 points clear of Lille as the champions continue their poor form to wrap up the end of the season. The club could only draw at home against Nice in a match that ended 1-1. Neymar who has been in the headlines for all of the wrong reason recently after getting into an altercation with a fan scored PSG’s goal after he converted a penalty. That goal cancelled out Nice’s opener.

The champions form has been almost alien to them where from the last 5 games they have just 1 win, although they have scored 98 goals this season in the league and with 3 matches left to play the team should certainly pass the 100 mark. Last season the club managed 108 goals.

But all of the excitement was not for PSG who simply want the season to end but for the race for 2nd place and an automatic Champions League qualification. So what better than 2nd playing 3rd, and that is what we witnessed at the weekend. Lyon were at home to Lille who have occupied 2nd place for most of the season and it does look like Lille will finish in that position after this encounter ended 2-2.

Martin Terrier opened the scoring for Lyon who came into this game 6 points behind Lille. But Lille took hold of the game and sped into a 2-1 lead only for Lyon to find the equaliser with 15 minutes to go through Leo Dubois. The draw was a great result for Lille who remain 6 points clear with just 9 points left on the board.

However the pressure was increased for Lyon because Saint Etienne in 4th beat Monaco in a five goal thriller that finished 3-2 to the Verts. Saint Etienne have won 4 games in a row and on form they are the 2nd best team in the league. They are just one point behind Lyon hoping to not only snatch 3rd place but also the final Champions League place.

Montpellier’s poor 1-1 draw at home against Amiens that their chances of a Europa League finish are almost over as they have slipped 7 points behind 4th place. However the draw was enough to move past Marseille on goal difference. Both teams are on 55 points after L’OM could draw against Strasbourg in a match they could have lost given that Strasbourg missed a penalty to go 2-1 up.

One of the biggest success stories of the weekend though was seeing Nimes enter the top 8 as they went to Reims and comprehensively beat them 3-0. Reims form since a European place became unavailable has been back to their early season poor run, but Nimes have been one of the best pound for pound teams in Ligue 1 this season after their promotion from Ligue 2.

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Race for Champions League places hots up in Ligue 1 between Lille, Lyon and Saint Etienne

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Champions PSG had the weekend off in Ligue 1 as they were playing in the Coupe de France final which they sensationally lost on penalties against Rennes after the match finished 2-2 at full time. With PSG not playing it also meant that Montpellier skipped the weekend and they will take on PSG later today in their rescheduled match.

But concentrating on the battle for Champions League places was the main focus of the weekend. Lille in 2nd place reaffirmed their position in style as they beat Nimes 5-0 at Stade Pierry- Mauroy. There was five different scores including man of the moment Nicolas Pepe. Lille’s fans have now seen their club score 10 goals in their last two home matches.

The win ensures that Lille stay 6 points ahead of Lyon with just 4 games remaining and only the top two places in Ligue 1 are assured of automatic qualification for next seasons Champions League.

Lyon who were expected to catch Lille, remain in 3rd after beating Bordeaux 3-2 in a thrilling match. The club were losing 2-1 at half time. Moussa Dembele scored the winning goal for Lyon with just five minutes remaining. It was a very important result for the club because Saint Etienne also won. They beat Toulouse 2-0 at the weekend to remain 3 points behind Lyon for the final Champions League place.

Saint Etienne have been in brilliant form and would in fact based on the last five games be top of the league. They have gained 13 points from their last 15 and have not lost a game in over 6 weeks.

Is a European finish finally over for Marseille? That was the feeling after the club lost 2-1 to in form Nantes at Stade Velodrome. Mario Balotelli came back from injury to score but the club had just 2 shots on target to Nantes 6 the whole game in what was seen as surprise result. It leaves Marseille trailing 4th place by 5 points and while they still have a chance for a possible Europa League place, those hopes are fading fast.

As mentioned above Montpellier will play PSG on Tuesday and if they win they would join Marseille on 54 points. Nice ended a 2 game period without a win and easily swatted aside bottom club Guingamp 3-0. As a result they moved up to 7th place on 51 points, but their best hope for this season would be to finish in the top six.

Finally Reims continued their dismal form with yet another draw- this time 1-1 against Angers which didn’t help either team. The club have not won in their last five games, drawing 3 of their last four and have now slipped a massive 10 points from a European place with just 12 left on the board, and their European dream is now finished.

Next week will see a mouth watering clash between 2nd and 3rd when Lyon take on Lille in what could be a defining moment for who will play in the Champions League next season.

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Kylian Mbappe scores a hat-trick as PSG win 8th Ligue 1 title and Champions League places are still up for grabs

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They say that things come in three’s but it took a 4th attempt for PSG to finally secure the league title in France, and in the end they didn’t even have to kick a ball.

The league was finally theirs, secured on the afternoon of Sunday when 2nd placed Lille could only draw 0-0 away against Toulouse. That draw meant that Lille could not catch PSG- not that they were ever going to anyway, but still it made it all mathematically impossible and PSG were the champions.

Whether PSG wanted it like that or not is open to debate but it was taken out of their hands given some of their surprising displays in weeks past which included folding against Lille 5-1, shocking misses in their 2-2 draw against Strasbourg and losing 3-2 to Nantes. As it was PSG played on Sunday evening and came out of their dressing rooms and onto the pitch to a party atmosphere to play Monaco, the only other team to have won a Ligue 1 title since 2013.

The game was a strange one in the fact that the PSG players really just wanted to party, they were now champions after all and Monaco seemed like the uninvited guest at a showpiece. In the end it was left to the outstanding Kylian Mbappe who scored a hat-trick to underline his greatness to the side. His 3rd goal marked his 30th in Ligue 1 and he easily tops the goal scorer charts and overall he has scored 36 goals this season which marks his finest ever.

Immediately after the game he had to predictably fend off questions that he was off to Real Madrid in the summer, denying that and confirming that he wanted to stay in Paris. Whether it’s true or not it was unfortunate he was asked such a question- if anyone deserved to be happy with a title win without distraction it was Mbappe. And there was to be more good news for PSG as Neymar and Edinson Cavani finally returned back to the squad and played some time in Paris.

Despite the league being over a race for the Champions League isn’t, and unlike, for example, the Premier League in England there is only 3 places up for grabs here. Lille in 2nd place could still in theory lose out but they won’t and at worst if a total collapse does happen they will get 3rd place and have to qualify. But with 5 games left and 15 points on the board they should finish as runners up as they are 6 points clear of Lyon.

The real excitement then is who will finish 3rd? Lyon are in pole position with 59 points but they have a genuine threat in the shape of Saint Etienne who have 56 points. The club went to Reims at the weekend and beat them 2-0 in an impressive result as Reims had not lost at home this year.

Lyon have five matches to play with only 2 at home and one of those games is a crunch match against 2nd place Lille in what should be a cracking game when the teams clash on May 5th- Lyon will be at home.

Marseille have not given up the chase for a Champions League spot as they beat Guingamp 3-1 away to put the side on 54 points and they have now won back to back games. The team remain outsiders but a Europa League spot should be secured, despite the absence of Mario Balotelli who has succumbed to injury.

Montpellier made light work of the inform Strasbourg and beat the team 3-1 to move up to 6th place. Strasbourg had just one shot on target which ended up being their goal in an otherwise disappointing game for the Coupe de la Ligue winners.

Reims poor form continued, and for a club that were in for a small chance of European football, that now looks like a distant dream after their 2-0 loss against a direct rival in Saint Etienne. Reims have now gone their last 4 games without a win and have fallen to 7th place and 8 points shy of a European finish. The famous club have recently unveiled a statue of former player Raymond Kopa- the Reims, Real Madrid and French legend is just what the club need right now.

Nice are in danger of losing their top 8 status to Nimes after Patrick Vieira’s club were shocked by 19th placed Caen as they lost 1-0 at home. It was a game that Nice dominated and Remi Walter missed a penalty early on which was clearly a sign of how the game would play out. Nimes are just 2 points behind Nice, who have to find their form, in a season that has ended prematurely for them.

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Lille destroy PSG in stunning fashion as Lyon lose again

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For the second week in a row PSG have blown the chance to wrap up the league title and both have been in quite stunning fashion. The first was when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting missed the sitter of a century to the club in front against Strasbourg. That was one shock to take away and analyse. But it got worse at the weekend when Paris visited Lille, the 2nd best team in France this season and were soundly demolished 5-1.

It threw shockwaves around the league given that PSG had previously lost just 1 game all season and when, on the rare occasion, they do lose they don’t concede 5 goals. It was a strange game that actually started with a Thomas Meunier own goal to put Lille in front, but PSG were level on the 11th minute through a Juan Bernat effort, but he would later be sent off to compound the misery for the champions.

Both Meunier and then Tiago Silva were taken off early on through injuries and it was shortly after this point that Lille saved their best moments for the game. In 30 second half minutes Lille scored 4 goals, PSG were in shock and the game fell away. The club will put it down to a bad day at the office, but the party poppers just keep getting delayed for a side that are still 18 points clear with a game in hand.

PSG will play Nantes away from home next weekend when all they will need is a single point to win back to back league titles. The sticking point in that game could be that Nantes have just pulled off one of their finest results this season by beating Lyon in 3rd place 2-1. That means back to back defeats for Lyon and with it they look like to have conceded runners up spot to Lille. The gap between the two teams is now 8 points with 18 remaining to be played.

Saint Etienne beat Bordeaux 3-0 and they are now just 3 points behind Lyon for a final Champions League position. In short Lyon simply have not been good enough this past month and could miss out on participating in next seasons competition. Marseille beat Nimes 2-1 in an enjoyable but nervy encounter for the home side which puts them on 51 points and five points behind Lyon just to add the pressure.

Montpellier beat Toulouse 2-1 which was good enough to move up to 6th place. But it was disappointment for France’s most historical club Reims who have had a superb season back in Ligue 1 when they could only 0-0 with Monaco, they are on the same points as Montpellier with 48 but their succession of draws is damaging their chances of finishing in a European position.

Finally Nice make the top 8 and while they remain undefeated in their last 4 games, it was another dour 0-0 draw away to Rennes that doesn’t raise much interest in how the team will finish up this season.

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Ligue 1: Player of the Weekend: Dante Costa

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Dante Costa earned 9pts at the weekend and is the Ligue 1 Player of the Weekend in the fantasy Ligue 1 rankings.

The Nice defender and Brazilian player also known simply as Dante has been the bedrock and guiding light in Patrick Vieira’s team and has played every game in Ligue 1 this season for Nice. In truth Dante’s career is supposed to be winding down given that he is 35 years old, but he has been raking in the points especially in the last few weeks- Nice have had 3 clean sheets in the last five games and his display this past weekend was the arguably his best of the season.

At the weekend Nice played Montpellier and this was given extra hype given the teams standings in the league, it was 7th v 8th, and both teams still have  a chance to qualify for next seasons Europa League.

Nice at home were installed as the slight favourites and the match lived up to what was seen beforehand as a close battle. In the end Nice won 1-0, Dante kept a clean sheet and the extra massive bonus for Dante which ended up giving him 9pts for the weekend is that he scored the only goal of the game- the winning goal in the 20th minute after a superb assist from Wylan Cyprien. Not only had Dante greatly contributed to the 3 points he had also scored his first goal of the season.

In all competitions Dante has only scored 3 goals for Nice from 112 games so at the weekend he celebrated the goal as if Nice had won Ligue 1 themselves. But in truth there was still a long way to go and he defended well, led the back line superbly with his experience of playing most of his career in the German Bundesliga and richly deserves to be named as Ligue 1 player of the week.

Patrick Vieira the Nice coach was all praise for his team especially the way his players were organised and focused, he said: “We were able to take control. We created real opportunities, we could have scored more this evening. I saw a very attractive Nice team. I may have changed systems slightly too early, which made us sit back. But the important thing was the spirit we showed over the 90 minutes. The important thing is to continue our run. If you look at our game against Dijon and the one this evening, we showed defensive solidity and we created chances. It’s encouraging for what’s to come. Not everything was perfect but to win against a good Montpellier side is a good thing. We need to continue to work to keep this dynamic.”

Dante will have to keep up his good defensive displays and he might be worth adding to your team given that Nice have the motivation to keep moving up the table and try out for a European spot. Dante has 50pts overall and is 7th in the defender Ligue 1 rankings for fantasy Ligue 1. He can be bought for just 6.5m and is worth keeping on your radar.

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None of the top 6 teams win as PSG blow title celebrations

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What a weekend it was in Ligue 1 with so many surprising results and upsets as the challenge for a European finish hots up with just 7 games and 21 points left on the board.

The biggest shock perhaps was Lyon losing against bottom placed Dijon. Lyon were also at home in 3rd place chasing down Lille and yet they were defeated 3-1 against a team who had previously won just 2 games away from home. The win boosted Dijon from bottom to 18th and even gives them a small amount of hope with survival. They are just 7 points behind 17th placed Amiens. Game on!

Lyon slipped 5 points behind Lille as the challenge for an automatic Champions League spot nears closer. But in some respect Lille also blew a great chance to go 7 points clear knowing in advance that Lyon had lost, Lille played on Sunday but could only draw 1-1 with Reims.

PSG were supposed to be confirmed as the league champions for a second year in a row on Sunday night when they played Strasbourg in Paris. But it wasn’t to be- Strasbourg whose form has vastly got better since winning the Coupe de la Ligue against Guingamp, were good enough to draw 2-2 with PSG. The draw means that PSG have lost their 100% record at home.

But the major talking point of the game was when the clubs were locked at 1-1 and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting had the easiest chance he will ever get in his career to score a goal. A simple tap in with the ball on the goal line and no challenge. He somehow caressed the ball along the goal line and onto the post. It was one of the worst misses in football history and at the same time it was also deemed one of the best defensive recoveries too.

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel elected to start Kylian Mbappe from the bench so there didn’t appear to be such a seriousness about the game on true reflection. But that miss could well spend the end of Choupo-Moting’s short lived career with the team from Paris, although we should not forget that he did score earlier in the game. Of course the title is just a stay of execution and PSG could officially wrap it up with their next game which is incidentally away to 2nd placed Lille.

Saint Etienne were not able to take advantage of Lille and Lyon dropping points and could only draw 2-2 with 17th placed Amiens. However the club went away happy in the end given that Remy Cabella’s 95th minute equaliser saved them from defeat.

Marseille lost again, this time to Bordeaux 2-0 and their infamous poor form just before the turn of the year seems to be back. That form led to fan protests to get rid of coach Rudi Garcia. L’OM have not won for 3 games and whilst they remain in 5th place Saint Etienne have pulled 2 points clear of them.

So from the top 8 clubs it was left to Patrick Vieira’s Nice to be the only team to win at the weekend. Nice beat Montpellier 1-0 their second successive result winning by the same score line and that put the team right in the mix on 47 points. It was 7th v 8th in a much frenzied contested match, there was 31 goal attempts from both sides in a game which could have gone either way.

The excitement is continuing to build in Ligue 1 as there is just 5 points between 4th place which is good enough for a Europa League finish and 8th place. Plus relegation could yet involve 6 teams.

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Ligue 1: Player of the Weekend: Mario Balotelli

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Since leaving the Premier League and joining the French Ligue 1 Mario Balotelli has been able to reinvent himself. Perhaps he has found a level where he can consistently shine but the Italian international has been superb, first with Nice and now with Marseille.

Balotelli joined Marseille only in the January transfer window when it was made clear to him that he would not be part of Nice coach Patrick Vieira’s plans. And since joining Marseille Balotelli has consistently been one of the best strikers in the league.

At the weekend he earned 8pts in Ligue 1 fantasy standings amongst the very best performance of all players in all positions. He earned these points as Marseille drew 2-2 with Angers, but Balotelli scored both of Marseille’s goals. On a personal level Balotelli had a fantastic game but given that his side with his goals were leading the game 2-0 and at home the match ended in disappointment for the former Inter Milan player.

Balotelli has really struck up a friendship and a connection on the pitch with Lucas Ocampos and it was Ocampos who assisted for both of Balotelli’s goals on Saturday at Stade Velodrome. Both classic style Balotelli finishes even if they weren’t his best ever. The two goals took Balotelli’s total to 7 from just 17 starts this season but the bulk of his goals have come from playing with Marseille in the past 8 weeks.

In the Ligue 1 fantasy rankings Balotelli is ranked 20th but this is mostly due to his non starts as a Nice player. He has 23pts so far but if he continues his form he could easily reach the 40pts marker and perhaps squeeze into the top 10 players. And he may be worth bringing into your team because he needs to keep scoring and helping his team as they try to qualify for the Champions League. He can be bought for 7m.

Marseille coach Rudi Garcia had this to stay after his teams 2-2 draw, bizarrely not praising Balotelli for his goals in this statement, it could be down to the fact that he was angered that his side did not win the game being 2-0 up. “As long as it’s mathematically possible we’ll still believe we can qualify for the Champions League. Of course we believe but we still have to win matches, and tonight we had the opportunity given we were leading 2-0. It’s a bump in the road, getting held at home. We’ll have to recover points on the road. We have to be solid for the whole game. We lost balls that we shouldn’t be losing and Angers took advantage. We played well for the first half-hour and then stopped attacking. We can’t blame refereeing decisions for this”.

Balotelli is richly deserving to be named Ligue 1 player of the week.

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Topical Ligue 1: Top 4 clubs all win as PSG edge closer to 8th title

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It was a weekend which saw all top four clubs in Ligue 1 pick up victories, and so not much changed in the standings.

PSG are ever closer to winning the league, and it is just a question of when and not if as they hold a massive 20 point lead at the top over Lille, and they have a game in hand. Just 4 more points will secure yet another trophy for the club, their 8th in their history and 6th this decade alone.

PSG were at least made to work hard for their win which ended 1-0 against Toulouse and it was that man Kylian Mbappe who got the winner with just a quarter of an hour left to play. Mbappe now has 27 goals this season and is 9 goals ahead of second place Nicolas Pepe. Not only will Mbappe be assured of a 3rd league title- 2 with PSG and 1 with Monaco he will also win the top goal scorers award too.

Lille kept up in the chase as they were involved in a very entertaining game at lowly Nantes to win a 5 goal thriller 3-2. And Pepe was able to score again, one of the brightest stars in European football has really shown just how good he is and it seems questionable if Lille will be able to hold on to him. Perhaps he will stay if they qualify for the Champions League. However Lyon are right behind Lille and just four points shy as they try to grab 2nd place. Lyon beat Rennes 1-0 at the weekend thanks to a Martin Terrier goal.

In 4th place Saint Etienne are just too far behind Lille or Lyon to challenge for that last remaining Champions League place. They are currently 7 points behind Lyon with 8 games to go so it is possible but that dream looks distant. They did beat Nimes 2-1 to keep themselves in contention of  a top 4 place though.

The big surprise involving the top clubs came earlier on the weekend when at home Marseille could only draw 2-2 with Angers and dropped two vital points in the process. Mario Balotelli who has been outstanding for the club grabbed both early goals to put his side 2-0 up and they were cruising but had a terrible and lacklustre second half to collapse.

Marseille’s draw which in retrospect felt like a loss has let in Reims who had the weekend off because of the Coupe de la Ligue final. They will play Strasbourg away from home this midweek and if they win Reims will go past Marseille and into 5th place. Nice beat Dijon 1-0 but did make heavy work of it in an otherwise dull game which saw the hosts reduced to 10 men. Dijon are bottom of the league and will most certainly be relegated while Nice remain in 7th place.

Finally Montpellier also didn’t play because of the Coupe de la Ligue final and they will play in midweek against the losers Guingamp. Montpellier will be at home against a team feeling very sorry for themselves and the home side will feel they can win this game. If so it would take them past Nice and create a bigger gap to Rennes. Having said that Montpellier have only won 1 game in their past five at home.

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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.