Balotelli fitter than last season, warns Dante

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Ligue 1 watch out! Mario Balotelli is looking fitter and hungrier than before, according to Nice team-mate Dante.

Balotelli enjoyed a goal-laden first season at the Allianz Riviera after a couple of miserable years with Liverpool and AC Milan, scoring 15 league goals in 23 appearances - although three red cards threatened to undermine his good performances.

A move back to Serie A with Torino had been mooted for the 26-year-old but he opted to stay with Nice for another season, signing his new deal in June.

The enigmatic striker will be part of Lucien Favre's squad to face Ajax in the Champions League third-round qualifier on Wednesday, and Dante believes he can improve on his record from 2016-17.

"We can see that he's fitter than last year," the Brazilian defender told a media conference ahead of their first competitive game of the season.

"We can feel that he wants to improve, especially in terms of his fitness. He's really into the training. 

"He knows that he needs to be ready. He's clearly in a much better place than last year."

Dante's optimism was shared by Favre, particularly after Balotelli started his pre-season preparations later than the rest of his team-mates.

"He started a little after everyone else," said the coach. "He came eight to nine days later. 

"Not that he was the one [who was] late, he just couldn't come before. He worked well since then like the rest of the team. We had some great sessions. He played 60 minutes against Gent and he was good."