Mario Balotelli had put Nice in front, but Felipe Caicedo and a Sergej Milinkovic-Savic brace gave Lazio a thumping 3-1 victory in France.
This was a top of the Europa League group showdown between two sides who had a 100 per cent record, but also a reunion for Mario Balotelli with an Italian club. He started with support from ex-Inter hero Wesley Sneijder and moved to a 3-5-2 to mirror Simone Inzaghi’s tactics. The Aquile were brimming with confidence after ending Juventus’ unbeaten home record after 50 wins and seven draws, but rested Ciro Immobile to give Luis Nani his first start supporting Felipe Caicedo.
Nice finished third in Ligue 1 last season and were knocked out of the Champions League play-offs by Napoli, 4-0 on aggregate, in August.
It was a dramatic start to the match in front of 1,700 visiting fans, as within four minutes Sneijder had dinked up a cross for Balotelli’s header, guiding it into the near bottom corner from 11 yards. That was the eighth goal SuperMario had either scored or assisted in his last eight games for Nice.
He had barely finished celebrating when Lazio had equalised, as the kick-off was nodded on by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Dante and Yoan Cardinale waited for each other to come for it, so Felipe Caicedo snuck in to prod into the net.
Patric blasted a half-volley wide and another effort over from Nani’s rebuffed free kick, then Cardinale spilled a Nani snapshot for Stefan Radu to fire the rebound on to the crossbar from point-blank range.
However, Nice almost scored on 40 minutes with a free kick routine, forcing Luiz Felipe to nod practically off the line and Alessandro Murgia charged down the rebound from Remi Walter.
The hosts almost scored straight after the restart, as Thomas Strakosha mistimed his rush to intercept a Sneijder pass for Balotelli, but SuperMario fired over the empty net.
Balotelli controlled a long pass with his right foot to skim the woodwork with his left, then Strakosha took the sting out of a Sneijder strike.
Lazio were increasingly pegged back, so Simone Inzaghi introduced Ciro Immobile and Luis Alberto. It paid off, as within five minutes they had taken the lead for the first time, Caicedo pulling back from the by-line for Milinkovic-Savic to side-foot home from 12 yards relatively undisturbed.
Immobile’s angled drive tested Cardinale after a give-and-go with Luis Alberto, while Balotelli again smashed a powerful finish over and Milinkovic-Savic made a decisive tackle on Le Marchand.
Strakosha beat away a sudden Alassane Plea screamer, but Lazio secured the points to go three points clear at the top of the group with Milinkovic-Savic’s header from a corner at the near post.
Nice 1-3 Lazio
Balotelli 4 (N), Caicedo 5 (L), Milinkovic-Savic 65, 89 (L)
Nice: Cardinale; Marlon, Dante, Le Marchand; Burner, Lees-Melou (Plea 71), Mendy, Walter, Jallet (Srarfi 88); Sneijder, Balotelli
Lazio: Strakosha; Bastos, Luiz Felipe, Radu; Patric, Murgia, Di Gennaro (Luis Alberto 60), Milinkovic-Savic, Lulic; Nani (Immobile 60); Caicedo (Lucas Leiva 75)
Ref: Thomson (SCO)
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