Ligue 1 returned after a three-week Christmas break this weekend, though some of the major stars were absent for their sides. Neymar, for example, missed Paris Saint-Germain’s Sunday night trip to Nantes due to injury, while Mario Balotelli managed only a few minutes at the end of Nice’s win over Amiens.
Balotelli might be yet to start a game in 2018, but he showed with a couple of Instagram posts that he has lost none of the humour that makes him a big favourite with the fans.
On Wednesday, he posted a video of him receiving treatment from a member of Nice’s staff. Balotelli is positioned in a vulnerable position, with the physio apparently providing some painful treatment to the Italy international’s hamstring.
“Isn’t what you guys are thinking, I swear!!!” he said.
Despite those Instagram hijinks, Balotelli is a far more mature man than he was when he spent time in England with Manchester City and Liverpool. That was reflected in a cartoon the forward posted on Thursday.
In it, a young Mario is stood with a quiver full of fireworks with a house on fire in the background, reflecting the damage that he did to his apartment when with Man City. Below is a similar picture, but in this one Balotelli is a bunch of arrows and has fired them consistently at the centre of the target.
It is a sentiment that tickled the Italian, who clearly found it reflective of his career.
Unlike Balotelli, Neymar has managed significant action this year, even if he missed out on Sunday. Indeed, he caught the headlines with a clever balancing act after scoring a penalty against Amiens in the Coupe de la Ligue in midweek, taking his boot off and balancing it on his forehead.
He gave little away about it, though.
“Those who know @jcelsomoraes will understand my celebration,” he said. “Congratulations brother, best wishes.”
The Brazil ace has been putting his brief time off to good use, though, reminding his Instagram followers of the Haiti earthquake of 2010 that continues to hamper the country.
“January 12, 2010: earthquake in Haiti (230,000 dead, 220,000 injured). 8 years later, Handicap International and I continue to support Haitians. I truly hope to be visiting Haiti very soon,” he said.
January 12, 2010: earthquake in Haiti (230,000 dead, 220,000 injured). 8 years later, Handicap International and I continue to support Haitians. I truly hope to be visiting Haiti very soon. #NeymarForHI #DontForgetHaiti 12 de janeiro de 2010: terremoto no Haiti (230 mil mortos, 220 mil feridos). 8 anos depois, Handicap International e eu continuamos ajudando os haitianos. Espero realmente muito em breve visitar o Haiti. #NeymarPorHI #NãoEsqueçaHaiti 12 janvier 2010: séisme en Haïti (230 000 morts, 220 000 blessés). 8 ans plus tard, Handicap International et moi continuons à soutenir les Haïtiens. J'espère vraiment visiter Haïti très bientôt. #NeymarForHI #DontForgetHaiti
Meanwhile, he posted an image of his time off over the Christmas period with his son.
Young team-mate Kylian Mbappe posted a similar image of himself looking relaxed in the back of a car with younger brother Ethan.
The week finished off on a philosophical note from Neymar, who continues to come under unprecedented scrutiny from all quarters since me moved to PSG from Barca in the summer.
“There are people who will like you, and people who will hate you even if you are the best person in the world,” he said. “Don’t blame yourself if so-and-so thinks you’re boring. People can find what they want, it doesn’t change who you are!”
They might have missed out at the weekend, but both Balotelli and Neymar expect to play full roles for their sides as they tackle Monaco and Dijon respectively.