Mario Balotelli is 'perfect culprit' for Italian press - Patrick Vieira

Nice midfielder Allan Saint-Maximin is congratulated by Mario Balotelli after scoring a goal. Getty Images

Mario Balotelli has been defended by Nice coach Patrick Vieira following criticism of his performances for Italy.

Vieira, who played with Balotelli at Inter Milan and Manchester City, gave his former teammate his support after he was criticised in the Italian media for his sub-par performance in the Azzurri's 1-1 draw with Poland earlier this month.

"Mario was severely criticised in Italy: it's always like that when the team doesn't win, you need someone to blame," he said. "I think that Mario was the perfect culprit for the Italian press.

"It's a shame. We spoke about it together, and I know that for these kinds of things, he is strong enough mentally to deal with the situation. But they have really been unfair with him."

Balotelli could play only his second Ligue 1 game of the season after being included in the Nice squad to face Montpellier on Saturday.

He reported to preseason training two weeks late amid speculation he would join Marseille and reportedly returned weighing 100kg, raising concerns about his fitness.

Vieira, who had previously urged the club to sell the Italy forward, confirmed he had included Balotelli in the Nice squad for Saturday evening's fixture.

"He doesn't have an issue, it's OK," Vieira said. "I have always said that he needed time, he isn't yet at 100 percent, but he trained all week, his attitude is good, he works well. Every day, I see a player who applies himself, who wants to find his level, to score and to play with his friends.

"When he is there physically, he is someone who is very important for us. He will travel to Montpellier, that's for sure."