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Nice weekend for Vieira’s Nice, Henry’s Monaco

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PSG is running away with Ligue 1, but MLS and Arsenal fans have had a couple of reasons to follow the French top flight this season.

Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira are in their first European managerial adventures, and both have had good weekends.

[ MORE: Arsenal tops Bournemouth ]

That’s been a rarity in the case of Henry, who took over a shockingly under-performing AS Monaco and oversaw just two draws in his first six matches.

On Saturday at Caen, a Radamel Falcao free kick was enough to get Henry that first win. Monaco is now two points back of safety, in 19th place.

Vieira’s run with Nice started slow but has picked up serious steam, and his men are within four points back of second place Lyon.

Nice got goals from Wylan Cyprien and Allan Saint-Maximin in a 2-0 win over Lille, stretching the club’s winning run to five matches. Four of those matches have come in the league, and all are clean sheets.

Both Henry and Vieira have been unafraid to speak their minds, with the latter calling out Mario Balotelli a couple of weeks ago.

Their sides meet Dec. 7 in Monaco.

PSG has a 15-point lead on second, and is 14-0-0 on the season. They have that going for them, which is nice.

Ligue 1: Marseille and Montpellier win to reach top four

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PSG may be well in front of the Ligue 1 table, but behind them is a fierce battle.

Marseille scored just before the break and held on for a 1-0 win over Nice, holding Mario Balotelli scoreless in his first return to club action in a month. It was a gritty win, with Nice holding 58% possession and Marseille owning just a single shot on target, which translated to a 42nd minute goal by Morgan Sanson.

Balotelli had a big chance to open the scoring in the 15th minute but saw his effort from a tight angle saved by Walter Benitez. Marseille took the lead three minutes before the break as Sanson received a cutback from Bouna Sarr and after a nice first touch, finished low for the lead. Neither team had much after the break, and the match finished with just four total shots on target.

Montpellier won as well, a 2-0 result over Bordeaux at home. They scored early in both halves, while holding Bordeaux to just three shots on target through the match. Gaetan Laborde grabbed the opener in the 17th minute, rising higher than Bordeaux goalkeeper Benoit Costil on a popped up ball and heading into the open net.

Costil made a fantastic save on a shot from Laborde in the 39th minute, pushing the effort from long range off the post. It wouldn’t matter thought, as Montpellier would double its lead in the 53rd minute on a penalty from Andy Delort after Pablo handled a cross near the end line.

The two victories pushed the clubs up to third and fourth, as Montpellier sits three points back of second-placed LOSC with 19, while Marseille is right there with 19 points as well, but with a goal differential just one behind.

Finally, Stade Rennais and St. Etienne drew 1-1 on a pair of first-half goals. Wahib Kazri deopsited a penalty for Etienne just four points in, while Rennais found the back of the net just after the half-hour mark through Senegalese youngster Ismaila Sarr who poked home on a corner.

UEFA Nations League: Italy draws at home, Cheryshev scores again

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The UEFA Nations League continued on Friday, and there was a clear competitive edge to the matches, moreso than the usual friendly contested between to nations during an otherwise meaningless international break.

Italy was forced to come from behind to earn a point at home against Poland in a 1-1 draw. Mario Balotelli earned his first competitive appearance since 2014, but young goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was needed early to keep out Piotr Zielinski in the opening 15 minutes who broke free on goal.

Italy had a spell of attacking possession on the half-hour mark, but it came to nothing, and they were punished for it. Mateusz Klich dispossessed Chelsea midfielder Jorginho in the Italy third, and Robert Lewandowski’s cross fell to an unmarked Zielinski at the back post who finished easily for the 1-0 first-half lead. The Italians proved dangerous in the second half, and they earned an equalizer. Federico Chiesa came on in place of Lorenzo Insigne, and he was immediately effective. He earned a penalty with 14 minutes to go on a tackle by Jakub Blaszczykowski, who was lucky to stay on the field, already on a yellow from early in the match. Jorginho struck from the spot to level the score.

Russia traveled to Trabzon to take on Turkey, but it was the visitors who scored first, and a familiar name at that. Denis Cheryshev, who was massively influential in Russia’s surprising run at the World Cup over the summer, struck in the 13th minute with a powerful left-footed volley to put Russia 1-0 up. Before halftime, the hosts leveled as Galatasaray defender Serdar Aziz with a volleyed howitzer of his own. Russia retook the lead after the break through Artem Dyzuba

Romania drew Montenegro 0-0, although it wasn’t without controversy as Aleksandar Boljevic was brought down in the penalty area after just eight minutes, but no call was made. Romania had a few chances before the break, but otherwise there was little to speak of. Montenegro striker Stefan Mugosa was sent off for a second yellow with 13 minutes to go.

Aleksandr Mitrovic earned a penalty and Dusan Tadic scored from the spot as Serbia took down Lithuania on the road 1-0. Albania topped Israel 1-0 on a goal by Taulant Xhaka, the brother of Arsenal midfielder and Swiss international Granit Xhaka. The Faroe Islands topped Malta 3-1 for a big win, the country’s second win in a row and third in its last six matches.

Report: West Ham, other PL teams chasing Nice striker Plea

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According to Sky Sports reproter Kaveh Solhekol, West Ham has made a bid for Nice striker Alassane Plea and is among a number of Premier League teams interested in the prolific Frenchman.

Plea, 25 years old, broke out last season at Nice scoring 21 goals in 49 appearances over all competitions. Before last season’s 16-goal Ligue 1 haul, he had just 20 league goals in 84 appearances.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Solhekol reports that West Ham has made a bid of $36 million, which is over Nice’s asking price, reported by Solhekol as about $35 million. According to the report, newly promoted Newcastle and Fulham are both also interested in signing Plea. Newcastle would seem to make more sense than Fulham, given the Whites’ chasing of Magpie frontman Aleksander Mitrovic who spent the second half of last season on loan at Fulham and was prolific.

The report also states another, slightly lower bid has been received by Nice, but the source of that bid was not revealed.

Plea began his career in the Olympique Lyonnais youth system, but only made 12 appearances for Lyon before moving to Nice in 2014. Last season he broke out, linking well with Mario Balotelli as the two put together a solid season to lead Nice to an 8th place finish in Ligue 1, with a solid attacking haul of 53 goals to balance out a leaky defensive performance. Plea has been involved in the French U-21 international setup in the past, but has yet to make an appearance for the senior side.

Balotelli back with Italy after four years, ready to be a leader

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TURIN, Italy (AP) — As far as Mario Balotelli is concerned, he doesn’t have to be Italy’s captain to be a role model.

“I’m here to score goals. You can also be a role model without wearing the armband,” Balotelli said at a news conference on Sunday, a day before Italy’s friendly against the Netherlands.

Earlier this week when Balotelli played for Italy for the first time in four years, a banner that read, “My captain is of Italian blood,” was draped on a pitch-side wall during a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in Switzerland.

With Balotelli one of the most experienced players on Italy’s squad, there had been discussion that he might be named captain.

The issue has come to the forefront amid the installation of Italy’s new populist leaders, which includes a staunchly anti-immigrant, right-wing party in its governing coalition.

Balotelli was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants.

“It would be a good signal for African immigrants to represent my country as someone of African origin and captain,” Balotelli said.

“Racism really hurts,” Balotelli added. “It’s time for Italy to become like many other countries — more open — and to start integrating people who come from abroad.”

Balotelli hadn’t played for Italy since the 2014 World Cup.

He said he understands why former Italy coach Antonio Conte didn’t use him — “I wasn’t in great form” — but couldn’t see why Gian Piero Ventura never called him up.

“With Ventura I have no idea. We spoke but I didn’t understand his explanations very much and I was doing well,” Balotelli said. “But he was the coach and so I respect his (decision).”

Ventura was fired in November after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

Balotelli played under current Italy coach Roberto Mancini at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.

Mancini announced that Balotelli would not start against the Netherlands, revealing that the attacking line would consist of Simone Verdi, Andrea Belotti and Lorenzo Insigne.

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