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Balotelli set for Nice clash with Montpellier

Publish on 18/04/2018 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS

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Mario Balotelli is in the squad for OGC Nice's European six-pointer against Montpellier Hérault SC at the Allianz Riviera on Sunday after recovering from illness.

 OGC Nice - Montpellier Hérault SC 

The Italian striker has scored 22 goals in 33 games in all competitions for Lucien Favre's side this season but missed last Friday's 1-1 draw at Angers SCO. His return is therefore very welcome ahead of the visit of their south coast rivals.

Separated by just 200 miles along France's south coast, Nice and Montpellier have drawn ever closer in the Ligue 1 Conforama table this season, with the former recovering from a poor start to mount a late European challenge.

Rivals for fifth

Nice begin the weekend in sixth, one point above Montpellier in seventh, and both sides know a win could lift them into fifth should Stade Rennais FC slip up against Breton rivals FC Nantes on Friday.

Nice could have occupied fifth - and with it the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round place - had they held onto victory against Angers last week, and Favre was understandably frustrated by the outcome.

"It's a shame, because we could easily have taken all three points," he said after Angelo Fulgini had cancelled out Alassane Pléa's opener. "This game had to finish 1-0! That didn't happen and it's our own fault. We kept pressing after the first goal and had lots of possession, but we made bad choices, took risks when we shouldn't have, and it cost us."

Pléa answering the call

Pléa's form is cause for optimism, though. The former France Under-21 winger has scored seven goals in his last five league games and will play in attack alongside Balotelli, who has been variously linked with Fiorentina and DC United in recent weeks.

Wylan Cyprien was Favre's only other doubt but has also made the squad. The midfielder missed much of the current campaign with a ruptured cruciate ligament but has since started seven league games.

Montpellier beat Nice 2-0 in October's reverse fixture, but two star performers that day will not be available on Sunday. Jérôme Roussillon - whose constant raids up the left tied Arnaud Souquet in knots - has a fractured metatarsal, with Stéphane Sessègnon, scorer of the opening goal, since leaving for Genclerbirligi.

'Still in the fight'

Owner of the division's tightest defence until as recently as Week 23, Michel Der Zakarian's men have looked shakier at the back in recent weeks, especially in the 3-1 defeat to Girondins de Bordeaux on Sunday.

"We had everything to be go fifth, but we didn't take our chance," lamented the Armenian tactician at his post-match press conference. "We're still in the fight, with an extra opponent: Bordeaux are now in the running. We're disappointed, but we'll get our heads right and be ready for the next round."

Keagan Dolly could start in attacking midfield after Jonathan Ikoné disappointed against Les Girondins, while Souleymane Camara could get the nod at the point of the attack with Giovanni Sio dropping deeper.

 

Probable teams

Nice: Benitez; Souquet, Marlon, Dante (c), Le Marchand; Lees-Melou, Seri, Cyprien; Saint-Maximin, Balotelli, Pléa

Montpellier: Lecomte; Mukiele, Mendes, Hilton (c), Congré, Cozza; Skhiri, Piriz; Sambia; Ninga, Mbenza