Mario Balotelli better than before despite weight issues - Nice's Dante

Mario Balotelli swapped shirts with Neymar following Nice's Ligue 1 defeat to PSG. Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

Mario Balotelli has "improved in relation to previous years" despite a difficult start to the season, according to Nice teammate Dante.

Balotelli, who arrived two weeks late and reportedly overweight for preseason training, has been limited to just three league appearances. Dante publicly criticised Balotelli's display in the defeat at Montpellier just over a week ago, demanding the former Liverpool and Manchester City striker "work to improve" and "take things in hand."

Speaking after the 3-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain on Saturday, in which Balotelli came off the bench at half-time, Dante defended his colleague, and insisted he had even toned down his temperamental attitude.

"There's not a problem," Dante said. "He's a guy who works. He is committed. I think he's even improved in relation to recent years. On the other hand, we know he came back from holiday with some extra weight. But he wants to come back. He wants to score goals again and help us, that's the most important thing.

"I'm clear with him. I protect him. He's a very good friend. And good friends are fair, they tell each other the truth. I try to help him because he puts a lot into it. For the moment, he doesn't see the result so he's disappointed, he's sad. And that's why he sometimes has that attitude."

Balotelli missed Nice's midweek win over Nantes in the hope he could make an impact when PSG arrived at the Allianz Riviera, but was unable to prevent the reigning champions from recording a comfortable win.

"He missed preseason. Physically, he's got ground to make up on the others," Nice coach Patrick Vieira said. "He's working to try and make up that ground. He's still an important player for us.

"He came off the bench and it was very difficult for him. But he respected what we were trying to put in place. Like the others, I have nothing to reproach him for."