Almost a month to the day since Mario Balotelli was dismissed for kicking out at Bordeaux defender Igor Lewczuk, the Nice striker was back in action this week.
The return of the Italy international forward did not, however, coincide with an upturn in fortunes for his Nice side, who remain second in Ligue 1.
A 1-1 draw against Bastia was not what they wanted on Friday, even if it temporarily took them to the summit once more, as they were overhauled by Monaco on Sunday as the principality side again hammered Lorient 4-0.
Balotelli’s return was welcome for head coach Lucien Favre, whose side continue to be hampered by crippling selection problems.
Even if their Italian was back, earlier this week they had talented wing-back Ricardo Pereira – one of the outstanding players in France this season – ruled out for six weeks.
And these absences are weighing on a Nice side that does not have the depth boasted by fellow title contenders Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain.
Balotelli certainly looked rusty at the weekend as he endured a difficult match. Not only was he frequently left isolated by his team-mates, but he had to cope with an intimidating atmosphere and a physical home side.
There were some flicks and tricks that hinted towards his brilliance, yet more typical of his display was a second-half free kick that actually cleared the roofless stand behind the goal.
Nevertheless, he is ready to fire on all cylinders in 2017, having received this bright pair of boots from his sponsor. Even if he was unable to make a “loud” impression at the weekend, such is the form he has displayed on the Cote d’Azur this term it’s difficult to imagine him staying mute much longer.
The striker continues to have great faith in his side, and certainly has not allowed his spirits to be dampened by Nice’s recent difficult spell of results, which has seen them draw their last three league outings.
“God will always protect you,” he told his Instagram followers on Friday.
When Nice take to the field next weekend, they will again play to go top of the league.
Their match is first on Sunday, with the big clash between PSG and Monaco to be played in the evening. They know a victory will increase the pressure on their closest rivals dramatically, and back on home turf, Balotelli will be ready to put a difficult start to 2017 behind him.