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By Etienne Ballerini
NICE, France, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Nice were never in the market for high profile signings like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, yet after forking out virtually nothing for Dario Cvitanich, the diminutive striker's lethal form represents fantastic value.
Nice, who have yet to finish higher than eighth in Ligue 1 since winning back promotion in 2002, have been a revelation this season and lie fourth in the standings prior to Sunday's home game against Girondins Bordeaux.
Argentine forward Cvitanich has been transformed into a scoring machine by coach Claude Puel, who believed the 1.72-metre player signed from Ajax Amsterdam in July, could be much more efficient in front of goal if given a central role.
"He is clever, he moves like a true striker but he was not aware that he could improve those qualities to actually become a great forward," Puel told reporters.
"At the beginning, it was not easy to convince that he needed to work more in front of goal. But he is intelligent and he realised he had to go through this process."
Cvitanich, nicknamed 'Super Dario' by his team mates, has now scored 12 goals from 18 appearances and lies second in the scoring charts behind Paris St Germain's Swedish international Ibrahimovic.
Cvitanich's rise to prominence had also been aided by his South American team mates - compatriot Renato Civelli and Colombian David Ospina, according to Puel.
"He's selfless, he's a good lad, simple, discreet, sociable," midfielder Valentin Eysseric added. "He's also incredibly cold-blooded in the area."
Nice have 35 points from 21 games and are six adrift of third-placed Olympique Marseille, who travel to Stade Rennes on Saturday playing down the significance of the fixture.
"We're just halfway through the season so this is not a crucial game," assistant coach Franck Passi told the club's website (www.om.net).
Hopes are high in Provence, however, with Marseille still firmly involved in the title race despite spending little on transfers during the close season.
The 2010 champions are only one point behind leaders Paris St Germain, who take on Lille on Sunday, while Olympique Lyon, second on goal difference, travel to Valenciennes on Friday.
PSG are expected to be without their usual centre backs Thiago Silva and Alex, who are both injured.
They will, however, be able to call on Ibrahimovic after the striker served out a suspension in Wednesday's French Cup game against Toulouse on Wednesday, which the league leaders won 3-1.
Champions Montpellier, who are 13 points off the pace in 12th place, take on Sochaux on Saturday. (Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by John O'Brien)