Wherever Mario Balotelli goes, entertainment will surely follow. The Italian forward has always presented himself as a bit of an enigma in world football, and his time in France has so far proven no different.
Amid all the confusion surrounding Neymar’s supposed unhappiness with life at Paris Saint Germain, it’s a refreshing feeling to be presented with something so familiar instead. Mario Balotelli has come up with the goods this week, with him and ill-discipline going hand in hand in a perfect partnership. The latest example of this came in the group of fixtures before the international break, when Balotelli scored the winner for Nice in their 1-0 victory over Dijon, before the striker found himself on the receiving end of a red card and an early bath.
Alassane Plea was felled in the box just five minutes before half time, and the referee duly pointed to the spot. Balotelli stepped up to convert, and hand his struggling team a much-needed opener and confidence booster. Nice successful held out for the rest of the game, with the game staying relatively even throughout. However, as the time ticked towards 90 minutes, the enigmatic Italian was shown his marching orders, after bringing down Cedric Yambere with a nasty tackle from behind.
The average football fan won’t be surprised by this in any way, but before Super Mario saw red he helped fire his team up to 15th place, and three points clear of the relegation zone.
Another non-surprise in France recently is PSG’s dominance over the league table. In a week where Neymar openly shed tears during his country’s press conference, he will take minor solace in his team’s 5-0 away win over Angers. The Brazilian wonder kid had picked up a knock so was ruled out of the game – not that it mattered though, as Julian Draxler, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani ruthlessly went about their goal-scoring business.
The Monaco loanee, Mbappe, opened the scoring after only five minutes, and the Parisians went on to assert their dominance over 14th place Angers in what proved to be a confident and controlled showing. It comes as no shock to see PSG at the top of the table, and their four-point buffer over Mbappe’s former club is only likely to continue growing through the rest of the season.
Elsewhere in France, the theme of thrashings continued in Marseille and St Etienne. Marseille currently sit in fourth place, and are enjoying a surprising start to the season. Their home clash with Caen proved to be no contest, as they ran out resounding 5-0 winners. Florian Thauvin is certainly enjoying life back in his home country, as his two goals helped lift his team to a deserved three points. Former Fulham man, Kostas Mitroglou, proved once again that he has banished his goal-scoring demons that had weighed him down in the Premier League, as he grabbed himself a goal.
St Etienne sit in sixth place, but were recently torn apart 5-0 by Lyon, whose fearsome forward line is making them such a force to be reckoned with so far this season. Memphis Depay has been flourishing in his short time in France, and he found the back of the net in the 10th minute to hand Lyon the perfect start to the game. A brace from Arsenal-target Nabil Fekir, and finishes from Diaz Mejia and Traore wrapped up the game, which keeps Lyon on the fringes of a title challenge.
Marcelo Bielsa has been spoken about as being one of the greatest ever managers by the likes of Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, although it is the Premier League-based tacticians who are enjoying successful seasons, and not the veteran Argentine. Bielsa’s Lille have been underperforming all season, and sit in the relegation zone as things stand – much to the surprise of pundits all over the world. The Argentine’s track record at clubs is as close to exemplary as it is possible to achieve as a coach in the modern game, but so far his time at Lille will be an unwanted blemish.
Despite the bigger picture, Lille picked up three valuable points in their last game, in a performance that brought much needed respite. A comfortable 3-0 win away at Metz will do little to protect Bielsa from the looming axe, but it does give the Lille supporters something to celebrate at last. As for Metz, they already look doomed so early in the season. With only three points picked up from 12 games, and only five goals scored, it looks to be a swift and painful drop to Ligue 2 next season for the minnows.
When the league action returns after the international friendlies, there are some interesting match-ups to look forward to.
Bielsa’s Lille play at home against St Etienne on Friday 17th November, and another three points will go a long way to propelling the struggling side out of the relegation mire. PSG and Monaco both play Amiens and Nantes respectively, while Sunday has some big matches – with Nice playing Caen away, and Lyon and Montpellier clashing at 4pm.