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One to watch: Mario Balotelli

Publish on 23/02/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS

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Having searched far and wide for a deadly number nine, Olympique de Marseille finally got what they longed for in January.

Mario Balotelli's arrival from OGC Nice ended a soap opera that had been ongoing since the last close season, and his first words were music to the ears of OM fans.

"The fans here are unique, they're so passionate. I hope I can make them happy from the very start," Balotelli said.

Super Mario has stuck to his word too. A goal just 20 minutes into his first appearance was proof of the Italian's hunger, and it set the 28-year-old on his way after he failed to find the net at all in the first half of the campaign with Nice.

'Smiling'

"We know just how important his presence is to us. He has scored three times in four games, he's played twice at the Vélodrome and scored both times. I think he's got the shoulders to take some of the pressure off the team," said coach Rudi Garcia as OM prepared for Sunday's trip to Europa League heroes Stade Rennais FC.

"He looks happy, he's smiling. We believe in him and vice versa. For now, everything is going well."

The belief that Balotelli can be Marseille's saviour in a difficult season has already inspired the Italian to shine both in front of goal, and in his link up play."He's someone we can lean on. He's big, strong, and can hold up the ball," fellow forward Valère Germain told The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports.

"He's also a very intelligent player with a great one-touch passing game. When you have players like that alongside you, it's easier for everyone."

Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda added: "He's a great addition, a hugely talented player, world class I would add. He's showing that right now, and it's great for us. We're delighted to have him here."

'Time on his side'

With a tricky month ahead, including clashes with AS Saint-Etienne, Nice and a trip to the Parc des Princes to face Paris Saint-Germain in Le Classique, Marseille can count on their number nine as they try to make a push for Champions League qualification.

Garcia knows there is more to come from his superstar forward, who managed 33 Ligue 1 goals in two seasons at Nice.

"He should have more to show for his career up to now," Garcia said of the former Inter, Manchester City, AC Milan and Liverpool striker.

"But he still has time on his side. In my opinion he's at a stage where he should be playing his best football, so let's hope he can deliver that in a Marseille shirt."