Super Mario Balotelli to lead Marseille past Rennes?
Mario Balotelli's free-scoring form since joining Olympique de Marseille from OGC Nice has coach Rudi Garcia optimistic that OM can make it four wins on the bounce, against Stade Rennais FC.
Stade Rennais FC - Olympique de Marseille
Balotelli only started nine games under former Manchester City teammate Patrick Vieira at the start of the season, failing to find the target, having returned to pre-season training significantly overweight.
The change in the 28-year-old since he arrived at the Orange Vélodrome in January has been impressive, though, with three goals in four games helping lift Les Phocéens to fourth and reigniting the prospect of an Italy recall for the striker.
"We haven't lost sight of anyone," explained Azzurri coach Roberto Mancini recently. "If he scores consistently between now and the end of March he could come back."
Balotelli's build-up play has also been impressive. His flick paved the way for Florian Thauvin to open the scoring in last Saturday's 2-0 win at Amiens SC before he completed the scoring himself.
Watch: Highlights of Marseille's Balotelli-inspired win over Amiens
"Balotelli changes a lot of things," said Garcia. "Yes, the goal was a goal of a world-class forward, but above all he accelerates our game with his one-touch play, even if that means he's not always in the box."
Balotelli will lead the line for a Marseille who will be at full-strength but for the injury-enforced absence of Netherlands midfielder Kevin Strootman, who has a groin strain.
Rennes begin the day in 11th, five places worse off than Marseille but with only four fewer points in what has become a congested race for European football next season.
Les Rouges et Noirs had been undefeated in four games in all competitions before their 2-0 loss at Stade de Reims last Sunday, with midweek European exploits perhaps having left Julien Stéphan's men a yard off the pace.
Watch: Highlights of Rennes' 2-0 loss to Reims
Rennes led Real Betis 3-2 in their Europa League last 32 first leg last Thursday before Diego Lainez scored an injury-time leveller in what was the Breton club's first ever European knockout game.
"It's a bit of a disaster when you concede a goal in the second minute," lamented the coach after the Reims match. "It completely changes a game. We wanted to have a good first 15 minutes but unfortunately we conceded after the first attack."
European football research body CIES this week cited Rennes as the fifth-most prolific club in the world in producing players for Europe's five major leagues.
With James Lea Siliki and Jordan Siebatcheu (both thigh), Abdoulaye Diallo (knock) and Jakob Johansson (knee) all injured and the second leg against Betis on Thursday, Stephan might have to dip back into the youth academy sooner rather than later…
Rennes: Koubek; Traoré, Da Silva, Mexer, Bensebaini; Bourigaud, André, Grenier, Del Castillo; Ben Arfa; Sarr
Marseille: Mandanda; Sakai, Kamara, Caleta-Car, Amavi; Lopez, Gustavo; Thauvin, Sanson, Ocampos; Balotelli