There is just no shaking Nice from the Ligue 1 title race.
When Lucien Favre’s side seem down and out, his side always manage to find a way to respond and, with the climax of the season approaching, Mario Balotelli appears to be finding his very best form once more.
Ahead of Friday’s trip to Lille, there were very real concerns that the third-placed side in Ligue 1 would struggle to shake off their stuffy hosts.
When they conceded early on to a horribly deflected shot from Ibrahim Amadou, it seemed those fears would be realised, but the Italy international was on hand to shake a monkey from his back as he scored his first away goals in Le Championnat since signing last August.
A drilled low finish following a swift counter drew Nice back on terms, while a second followed before the break. On this occasion, the 26-year-old showed all his striking instincts to be presented with a simple tap-in after Vincent Enyeama had done well to save a shot from Ricardo Pereira.
4 - Mario Balotelli has attempted 4 shots (4 on target, 2 goals) against Lille in the 1st half, as many as the entire Lille team. Super.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) April 7, 2017
Balotelli had also been on target in a similar success five days previously, against Bordeaux, but this time he was a more persistent threat and might have completed a hat-trick.
Nevertheless, he had done his job and when he was replaced with a little under 10 minutes to play, congratulated by his team-mates as he left the field.
In the locker room after the game, he and goalkeeper Yoan Cardinale, his best friend in the squad, celebrated with a spot of play fighting.
Even Valentin Eysseric, who previously had a pop at the striker’s attitude, seems to be getting into the spirit of things.
Earlier in the week, he was caught on camera wearing a Super Mario outfit and it was the midfielder’s fine pass that laid on Balotelli’s opener at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Given that the Italian had set him up a week earlier, it seemed only a fair trade. Away from the field, Balotelli has been enjoying some more father-daughter time with Pia, and he has perhaps revealed himself to be a bit of a Star Wars fan, as he dressed up in a Darth Vadar mask.
Having crammed a couple of matches into the space of five days, Nice have the relative luxury of eight days between games.
Next weekend, they will start as heavy favourites against a Nancy side in no kind of form and looking likely to head back to Ligue 2.
If ever there was a chance for Mario to relax, this is it. He has contributed to his side’s ongoing challenge, but he will have to rouse himself once more next weekend.