Balotelli and Marseille readying for Champions League charge
29 Mar 2019
Marseille’s Mario Balotelli scored five goals in eight appearances since his January switch from Nice. File / Agence France-Presse
Paris: Marseille host Angers on Saturday with the Mediterranean side’s late season push for Europe energised by the goals and all-round contribution of Italian striker Mario Balotelli.
Fourth placed Marseille lost 3-1 at bitter rivals Paris Saint-Germain before the international break, but with five Balotelli goals in eight appearances since his January switch from Nice the club is in upbeat mood. The often controversial striker looks to be thriving in the glare of Marseille’s often comic, soap-opera like atmosphere.
“We can count him in our number,” said club president Jacques-Henri Eyraud.
Coach Rudi Garcia agrees, saying: “when we are down and under pressure, you can always find him, he can hold up the ball and get everyone going again.”
Former OM idol Didier Drogba admitted last week he told Balotelli a stint at Marseille would be good for him.
“Grab your chance. Go for it. It’s a club that’ll do you good,” Drogba said he told the 28-year-old.
The striker will be well rested after Roberto Mancini left him out of Italy’s squad for recent Euro 2020 qualifiers, saying he was unfit, causing him to write on Instagram that he was “tired” of being underestimated -- ominously for Angers.
Club owner Frank McCourt has launched a ‘Champions Project’ to get Marseille back in the Champions League, and his team now sit six points adrift of that target with nine matches remaining.
“We are more than satisfied with the way he has fitted in and with his contribution on the pitch,” Eyraud says of the part Balotelli has played.
Marseille’s direct rival for the final Champions League spot is Lyon, who sit in third and warm up for next week’s French Cup semi-final with Rennes by travelling to take on the same team on Friday missing several key players.
Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes is back after suffering both concussion and a mental battering in a 5-1 Champions League defeat at Barcelona.
But defender Ferland Mendy is still out with a calf strain from that Barca bruiser while striker Maxwel Cornet and Dutch defender Kenny Tete are also in the Lyon sick bay.
Hatem Ben Arfa’s Rennes, eliminated by Arsenal in the Europa League two weeks ago, have three players suspended but go into the match on good form and with a solid home record.