Balotelli: we have nothing to fear from Manchester United

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The Independent Online

The Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli does not fear rivals United in the battle for the Premier League title. The enigmatic 21-year-old – who also admitted a visit to a strip club last week was a "mistake" – is confident City will finish above Sir Alex Ferguson's team.

City are two points clear of United in the table. "We are a great group," Balotelli told Gazzetta dello Sport. "We have quality. If we remain together until the end, United will finish behind us and they are not to be feared."

Balotelli joined City from Internazionale in the summer of 2010 and has scored 14 goals in 24 games this season. The Italian striker said he is now a much better player and expects to keep improving.

"The intensity and the effort that I am giving this year, also in training, cannot be compared to that of last year," he said. "I have grown and certain things I've understood."

Balotelli was recently left out of Italy's national team for the second time after breaching Cesare Prandelli's code of conduct. Prandelli did not select him for the Azzurri's friendly against the United States because Balotelli was serving a four-match ban after kicking out at Tottenham Hotspur's Scott Parker on 22 January.

"I was hurt," Balotelli said. "I always say it in the changing room that the most fascinating jersey for me is that of the national team because of what I feel when I represent my country.

"I often think of the European Championships. I am saddened to have missed the friendly in Genoa [against the United States]. There is an ethical code and I accept it, even though I don't think I deserved [to be banned]."

Balotelli insisted he did not intentionally stamp on Parker. He said: "Perhaps when you slow down the image, it might appear so but I didn't touch him. I didn't do anything wrong so I didn't have to justify myself." Italy struggled without Balotelli and lost 1-0 to the United States. The Italy international also spoke of his latest misdemeanour. Balotelli emerged from a Liverpool strip bar in the early hours of Friday morning breaking a curfew ahead of Saturday's game with Bolton. "I didn't do anything wrong at the club," he said. On whether he has received a £250,000 fine by City, Balotelli said: "I still don't know. I must talk with [City manager Roberto] Mancini."