Balotelli and Marseille readying Champions League charge
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.
- Sala gap at Nantes -
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.
Twenty points clear atop Ligue 1, defending champions PSG travel to Toulouse on Sunday ahead of their own French Cup semi-final with Nantes.
Toulouse have won just one of their last five games and face Ligue 1 top scorer Kylian Mbappe's growing prowess as a lone striker in the absence of injured Neymar and Edinson Cavani and a PSG side with seven straight league wins under their belts.
Emiliano Sala's former club Nantes host second-placed Lille with the Atlantic coast outfit learning this week that Cardiff have declared the deceased striker's transfer null and void.
Sala remains Nantes' top scorer on 12 with two others Gabriel Boschilia and Majeed Waris on just four apiece.
But the 2001 French champions are 10 points ahead of the drop zone -- and nine away from the relegation play-off spot -- and seasoned coach Vahid Halilhodzic appears to have got the Canaries focused again after the shock of the death of their former teammate.
Lille, who won the French league themselves as recently as 2011, were beaten last time out by resurgent Monaco and will be keen to win with Lyon closing the gap behind them in third.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Rennes v Lyon (1945)
Marseille v Angers (1600)
Amiens v Bordeaux, Dijon v Nice, Monaco v Caen (all 1400), Nantes v Lille (1600), Toulouse v Paris Saint-Germain (2000)
Saint-Etienne v Nimes (1930)
Montpellier v Guingamp, Strasbourg v Reims (both 1800)
? 2019 AFP