Mario Balotelli has a touch of Francesco Totti about him, says Olympique de Marseille boss Rudi Garcia as he looks to his new Italian forward to fire his team to victory against Amiens SC on Saturday.
Olympique de Marseille - Amiens SC
Balotelli failed to find the net in ten Ligue 1 Conforama games for OGC Nice earlier this season, but has struck twice in three matches since his winter switch to Marseille to help his team move into sixth place, three points off the top four.
With his side looking for a third successive top-flight triumph, Garcia, who coached AS Roma icon Totti during two-and-a-half years with the Italian club, believes Balotelli shares some of the traits of his silkily skilled compatriot.
"Mario is different to what we could have had, even if he is more a penalty-box striker than anything else. He plays well with the team, we can pick him out and he can hold it up up front. When we're defending deep and under pressure, we can play it up to him and he keeps possession and the whole team can move up," Garcia explained.
"Keeping things in proportion, I see a bit of Francesco Totti in him, in his ability to play one-touch football in the final third, his vision and his ability to put the ball into a teammate's run."
Balotelli missed his new club's 1-0 win over Girondins de Bordeaux in their rescheduled Week 18 encounter as he had still been a Nice player at the time of the original fixture, but he returned to the starting XI to fire the equaliser in the 2-1 come-from-behind win at Dijon FCO last Friday.
While Garcia admitted the former Manchester City and Liverpool striker's fitness still needs reinforcing, but that he has been a positive influence on a squad that has had few reasons to smile this season.
Garcia: 'He's putting in the effort'
"Every player needs to feel loved. Mario, we knew he was a good teammate, that was confirmed to us before he arrived. He's a player who is liked. He's confident, quite happy, everyone has welcomed him," Garcia said.
"He doesn't put himself ahead of others, he's open and smiling, shows his motivation. He's scored two goals in three games, that's good and he has to keep that going. My only focus is his fitness. We are re-doing his pre-season, but he is putting in the effort and he seems to be enjoying it."
Marseille have won all three Ligue 1 Conforama encounters with Amiens, but the Picardy outfit would dearly love to buck that trend. Christophe Pelissier's men head into the weekend in the thick of the relegation battle with just two points and as many places between them and the bottom three.
It would have been worse but for a 1-0 win against fellow strugglers SM Caen last time out in which their own new striker, Sehrou Guirassy, impressed in a promising front pairing with matchwinner Moussa Konaté.
"It's a real relief. It was a crucial game for us and we were up against a team that is playing for its top-flight survival, just like us. We absolutely had to take points and that's what we did," said Guirassy, who arrived from German side Cologne in the winter transfer window.
"We can't hide from the fact that there is still a long way to go. I hope this win will allow us to build up confidence. In any case, we'll go to Marseille with the aim of bringing back points. I'm not afraid fo this game. You know, the Marseille players are just like us, they have two arms and two legs."
Marseille: to follow
Amiens: to follow