Nice wins to move 4 points clear of Monaco & 7 ahead of PSG
ABS-CBN Sports on Dec 19, 2016 10:18 AM
(AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer
Rejuvenated striker Mario Balotelli took his league tally to eight goals in eight games as French leader Nice beat struggling Dijon 2-1 on Sunday to move four points ahead of Monaco and seven clear of defending champion Paris Saint-Germain.
Regardless of what happens in the upcoming midweek games, Nice is guaranteed to head into the winter break in first place.
Monaco could have closed the gap to one point, but it was reduced to 10 men in the first half and lost 3-1 at home to a rapidly improving Lyon on Sunday night.
Lyon is now up to fourth place, five points behind PSG and with a game in hand.
Monaco was under pressure after left back Benjamin Mendy was sent off in the 39th minute — 10 minutes after Algeria midfielder Rachid Ghezzal had given Lyon the lead.
Lyon winger Mathieu Valbuena is getting back to his best as he chases a France recall, having being left out of the European Championship squad this summer, and scored for the fifth time in the past six games to make it 2-0 in the 65th.
Monaco rallied thanks to midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko's strike five minutes later, his team's 54th goal in just 18 league games. But Lyon's top scorer, Alexandre Lacazette, wrapped up the win late on with his 12th league goal in just 13 games. In the previous two league campaigns, the prolific forward — rated at around 45 million euros ($47 million) — scored 48 in 67 games.
PSG had lost 2-1 at Guingamp on Saturday for its fourth league defeat of the season and still has to play at Nice in the second part of the campaign.
Nice has lost only once this season under Lucien Favre in his first season in charge.
The Swiss coach should also take credit for helping to relaunch Balotelli's career when many observers had written him off.
Balotelli scored from a penalty kick in the 32nd minute and, after Julio Tavares equalized from the spot shortly after, pounced five minutes after halftime for the winner.
The Italian forward joined in the summer as a free signing from English Premier League side Liverpool, and is reviving a chaotic career where he has often stood out for controversial incidents on and off the field.
His unhappy time at Liverpool came to end when the English club sent him on loan last season to AC Milan — his former club — but he only managed one goal in 20 league games for the Italian side.
The season before that, Balotelli had scored only one league goal for Liverpool in 16 games.
But now, despite an occasional absence through minor injuries, he is a key part of Favre's plans.
Balotelli struck his penalty low to the left, with goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet guessing the right way, and then turned in defender Arnaud Souquet's cross from the right.
MARSEILLE 2, LILLE 0
Coach Rudi Garcia's methods seem to finally be working as Marseille won for the third league game in a row to climb up to sixth place.
Striker Bafetimbi Gomis opened the scoring in the 56th minute and winger Florian Thauvin added the other four minutes later.
They have been Marseille's most consistent players this season and have 14 league goals between them: nine for Gomis and five for Thauvin.
Garcia took charge in late October, replacing Franck Passi, but won only two of his first seven games in all competitions.
CAEN 3, METZ 0
Croatian striker Ivan Santini scored his eighth league goal of the season as Normandy side Caen moved two points away from the relegation zone.
Caen took the lead through 18-year-old striker Yann Karamoh in the 20th minute.
Santini netted in the 61st before substitute forward Pape Sane sealed the win in injury time.
Caen is in 16th place, while Dijon is 18th.