PARIS — Striker Mario Balotelli was rested to protect a sore hip and his replacement Alassane Plea scored the winner as Nice beat struggling Nancy 1-0 Sunday to stay top of the French league.
Keeping Thursday’s Europa League match at Russian side Krasnodar in mind, Nice coach Lucien Favre thought it best to leave out Balotelli and put other regulars on the bench.
“Mario’s hip was hurting so it was too risky … We’ll see for Thursday,” Favre said. “We have a long trip to Krasnodar and the Europa League will take its toll for sure.”
Balotelli has made a strong start to his career in France, scoring four goals in two league games — two on his debut against Marseille and two well-taken goals in a 4-0 midweek win against Monaco.
Favre has spoken of how the Italian forward, who is reviving his career in France after a failed stint in England with Liverpool and a dismal loan spell at AC Milan, still needs to regain full fitness.
This time, Balotelli was not needed as Plea — who scored when replacing Balotelli against Monaco on Wednesday night — poked the ball in after midfielder Valentin Eysseric had clipped a pass over the defense.
Nancy’s fans were again left feeling disappointed after a fourth defeat in seven matches, with the promoted club in 19th place.
Nice is one point clear of French Riviera rival Monaco after seven games, three in front of Toulouse and four ahead of defending champion Paris Saint-Germain.
“It’s magnificent to have 17 points after seven games,” Favre said. “But it’s the matches coming up that count.”
PSG lost 2-0 at Toulouse on Friday.
MARSEILLE 2, NANTES 1
It was third time lucky for captain Bafetimbi Gomis, who struck Marseille’s winner from the penalty spot after having missed two clear chances.
After defender Enock Kwateng tripped him, Gomis slammed his spot kick straight down the middle in the 53rd minute.
“Florian (Thauvin) told me he wanted to take it,” the 31-year-old Gomis said. “But with all my experience, it was my responsibility.”
Marseille’s past two defeats were by 3-2 scores, with Marseille leading 2-1 both times.
This time Marseille rallied from 1-0 down to secure a much-needed victory.
Nantes pressured heavily at the end, with midfielder Guillaume Gillet striking the crossbar.
Earlier, Marseille’s defense panicked on a third-minute corner as Polish striker Mariusz Stepinski’s header was bundled into the net by forward partner Emiliano Sala.
Clinton N’Jie’s first goal since joining on loan from English side Tottenham drew Marseille level in the 23rd, and it was a fine finish from 20 meters after Gomis’ instinctive flick sent him through.
Moments later, Gomis curled wide from close range after shrugging off two defenders.
“I was too greedy on that chance,” Gomis said. “I wanted to put it far out of the goalie’s reach.”
Just after the restart, he was way wide with a spectacular diving header from a corner.
Still, with five league goals in seven games since joining from Premier League side Swansea, Gomis is making his mark.
SAINT-ETIENNE 3, LILLE 1
At 0-0 the match was going reasonably well for last-place Lille until defender Franck Beria wafted his hand in the air to block a pass over midfield.
It was careless and costly, earning Beria a second yellow card. After his sending off in the 43rd minute, 10-man Lille conceded three second-half goals.
No wonder under-pressure coach Frederic Antonetti shook his head in annoyance as Beria — a veteran playing in his 10th season for Lille — trudged off.
Slovenia striker Robert Beric scored his third goal in four games, 18-year-old midfielder Arnaud Nordin got his first career goal and forward Nolan Roux added the third for seventh-place Lille.
Veteran defender Renato Civelli got Lille’s goal.