Nice striker Mario Balotelli has admitted he was surprised at standard of Ligue 1 after moving to France on the final day of the August transfer window.
Surprise title contenders Nice are third in the table with nine games to play, while Monaco are three points clear of the defending champions Paris Saint-Germain, with Balotelli scoring 12 goals for Lucien Favre's side in all competitions.
Balotelli accepted the competitiveness of the league came as a shock in his first experience of the division, having previously spent his career playing in England and Italy.
"This is not an easy league but I can't compare it to the Premier League," Balotelli said in an interview with Christophe Dugarry on RMC. "It will always be the best in the world.
"I thought that Ligue 1 would be easier, [but] it is very physical and tactical. The Italian league is better than the French league in terms of organisation and refereeing. It's weird the French league is not up there with the others, we need to find the problems because it is very important."
Smile March 15, 2017
Balotelli was a surprise signing for Nice having previously played for European giants including Inter, Liverpool, AC Milan, Manchester City, but the 26-year-old is impressed with his young team-mates.
"Everything is good. I feel really good here," Balotelli said. "We have exceptional fans. They truly encourage us each match. I want to thank them.
"This is a young team. I am young but they are even younger. Since I have arrived here I have seen so many good players. Talented, young - I think the average age here at Nice is 22.
"There are four players who really impress me: Jean Seri, Ricardo Pereira, Wylan Cyprien and Alassane Plea. I think they have enormous potential and will become big players. I think they'll stay at least one more year. We were first in the league for a long time. We proved that we can do it. I am not surprised. The squad is very strong."
Balotelli's disciplinary record has been a cause for concern, the striker having been dismissed three times since joining, and the Italy international believes communication between players and officials could be better in Ligue 1.
"It is definitely a different league to what I was used to in Italy and England," Balotelli added. "The referees have a different way of judging things than I am used to. When I was sent off for the first time I went to Paris to go to the disciplinary commission.
"The top players of each club must be protected. Because if you get fouled 25 times, of course there is to be a reaction. There are some referees in France who are rigid."
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