A 13-goal scorer in 17 league matches for Nice, Balotelli has five more goals between Champions League and Europa League matches plus a cup goal to give him 19 in 25.
Balotelli has 13 goals in 33 caps, but his mercurial nature has stopped him from earning a cap since the 2014 World Cup ended with a 1-0 group stage loss to Uruguay.
He’s tied for sixth in Ligue 1 when it comes to goals, level with ex-Newcastle man Florian Thauvin and behind Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Falcao, Nabil Fekir, and Mariano, and is also among the Ligue 1 leaders in shots and yellow cards.
Unfortunately, any continued growth will likely not lead to another World Cup with Italy having missed its chance for Russia 2018.
Elsewhere, Marseille and AC Milan moved on, Ajax was sent home, and USMNT prospect Ethan Horvath had a busy and rough night between the sticks in Greece.
Hajduk Split 1-1 (1-3 agg.) Everton
Josip Radosevic hit a rocket just before halftime to pull to within one of Everton, but new Toffees midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson sank the drama with a 46th minute marker.
The goal came from more than 40 yards out and meant Hajduk would need a three-goal win. The hosts got a prime chance to get one back when Ashley Williams felled his mark inside the 18, but Jordan Pickford robbed Said Ahmed Said with a quality diving stop of his penalty attempt.
AEK Athens 3-0 (3-0 agg.) Club Brugge
American goalkeeper Ethan Horvath was under siege, with the Greek hosts outshooting Brugge 14-4. Lazaros Christodoulopolous scored in the 27th minute and Andre Simoes nabbed two goals in the win.
Shkendija 0-1 (0-7 agg.) AC Milan
No six-spot this time, just Patrick Cutrone’s 13th minute finish to book Milan’s place in the group stage.
Marseille 3-0 (4-1 agg.) Domzale
Valere Germain scored twice and ex-Newcastle United attacker Florian Thauvin nabbed an 85th minute finish to ease the heavily favored Ligue 1 side into the next stage.
After bouncing straight back from relegation and returning to the Premier League, where they spent have spent every season except two since the league’s inauguration in 1992. Both times Newcastle were relegated, they won the Championship and came straight back up.
This time, they have as experienced a manager as a newly promoted side can have along for the ride. Newcastle proved strong in their bid to keep Rafa Benitez after relegation, and he delivered on his promise to get them back to the top flight. Now, staying there will be another battle altogether.
Best, worst case scenarios – Best-case scenario is that Newcastle returns to its former pedigree as a perennial top-half finisher. That’s not out of the question at all, considering they have a strong side that pulverized the Championship at times. Newcastle can break down any defense, with attacking talent that could surprise the Premier League with its quality.
Worst-case, this team flops hard and battles relegation again. The Magpies’ biggest weakness is facing a team like them, that possesses the ball and storms forward. They lost twice to Fulham last season in Championship play, a team most comparable to Newcastle’s style at that level. Should teams look to replicate this strategy, Benitez would be powerless as he watches his team pinned back and unable to push forward. This team isn’t vastly changed from when they were relegated, and that could prove a major downfall.
— 1st Place finish in Championship (Automatic promotion)
— FA Cup 4th Round (Lost to Oxford United)
— League Cup quarterfinals (Lost to Hull City)
Star player: Ayoze Perez — If asked for most important player, I probably would have gone with one of the two central defenders, who anchor this club. Florian Lejeune is a quality addition and will strengthen this defense considerably. However, it’s “star” player and that is without a doubt playmaker Ayoze Perez. The 22-year-old Spaniard can both create and score, and he racked up 12 goals and 7 assists last season in the Championship despite playing 1,400 less minutes than leading creators Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey. Perez will be a critical part of this Newcastle squad, and he’ll need to blossom this time around after misfiring in his first go at the Premier League campaign the Magpies’ relegation season.
Coaches’ Corner: Rafa Benitez is as experienced as they come for newly promoted sides. He is the only manager in history to have won the Champions League, Europa League, Club World Cup, and Super Cup titles, and he has Newcastle in good hands. While he fell from grace at Napoli and Real Madrid, taking charge of Newcastle is a completely different animal, and he passed the Championship meat grinder with flying colors. Back in the Premier League for a full season for the first time since 2010, Benitez has a quality squad to work with as Newcastle looks to continue its slow build back up.
PST predicts: This is a very deep team, which will be of utmost importance when the injuries inevitably hit. The attacking trio of Matt Ritchie, Ayoze Perez, and new signing Jacob Murphy have plenty of support in Christian Atsu, Siem De Jong, Henri Saivet (should he stay). In addition, the midfield is strengthened by Borussia Dortmund loanee Mikel Marino and Jack Colback. The quality in depth coupled with Rafa Benitez’s guiding means this squad should be comfortably in the Premier League, with a safe bottom-half finish. The only slip could be if the players who failed to keep the club afloat last time perform below standards a second time.