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Nice face a season of struggle

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 By Ian Holyman

Mario Balotelli reacting well after 'kick up the backside' - Yoan Cardinale

Mario Balotelli has responded positively to the "kick up the backside" of being benched, Nice teammate Yoan Cardinale has told media.

Balotelli made a strong start to life in France following his summer move from Liverpool, scoring six goals in his opening five Ligue 1 matches to help his new club top Ligue 1.

Nice's title challenge has faded as Balotelli's form has dipped with just three goals coming from his next eight league games, leading to coach Lucien Favre naming him among the substitutes for last week's game with St Etienne

Following a nine-minute cameo appearance in that match, Balotelli was not even in the matchday squad for last weekend's draw with Rennes, and teammate Valentin Eysseric criticised the former Inter Milan and Manchester City forward's work ethic.

Fellow striker Alassane Plea is ruled out of Saturday's league game with Lorient with a knee injury, meaning an almost certain return to the first team for Balotelli, and Cardinale believes the Italy international is ready to take his chance. 

"When he makes a mess of a shot in training, he insults himself, he gets annoyed, but that's what makes him strong. When he's not scoring, he doesn't stop," the Nice goalkeeper said.

"Like every player, there's competition for places and the coach makes his choices. He wasn't happy to be substitute, but I don't know any player that's happy to be on the bench. But it gave him a big kick up the backside, and this week he's been very good in training. He's met all the coach's expectations."

Ian is ESPN's French football correspondent. Twitter: @ian_holyman

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