Football: Balotelli may be walking a tightrope at Nice

Nice's Italian forward Mario Balotelli leaves the field after receiving a red card during their French L1 football match against Lorient on Feb 18, 2017.
Nice's Italian forward Mario Balotelli leaves the field after receiving a red card during their French L1 football match against Lorient on Feb 18, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - After a near-perfect start to his season at Nice, Mario Balotelli appears to be on a slippery slope after being sent off for dissent in a Ligue 1 game on Saturday.

The Italian striker was shown a straight red card - his second of the season - in the 68th minute of their 1-0 win at Lorient, with referee Tony Chapron telling L'Equipe on Sunday: "He insulted me in English. I won't say more but it was something classical."

Balotelli was backed by Nice 'keeper Yoan Cardinale, who claimed that his team-mate "did not say much" and the Italian was a victim of his troublemaker image.

Coach Lucien Favre, however, was less understanding. "Is he victim of his reputation? Do you think it was a red card because it was Balotelli? It's ridiculous," Favre was quoted as saying by L'Equipe. "If there is enough for a red card, they send off, if there is not enough, they do not send off."

After scoring six goals in his first five appearances, Balotelli, who joined on a free transfer from Liverpool, has been less impressive, netting only three goals since last November.

Favre, however, felt the forward was on his way back to top form.

"I thought he had improved a lot in training this week," the Swiss said. "I had talked to him but I can't always do that because otherwise I end up focusing only on him."

Favre is now left with a headache for Nice's next Ligue 1 game against Montpellier on Friday as Balotelli will be suspended and fellow striker Alassane Plea is out for at least six weeks with a knee injury.

Nice are second in the standings with 56 points from 26 games, three behind leaders Monaco and one ahead of champions Paris St-Germain, who host Toulouse later on Sunday.