Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli faces another inquisition from his manager, Roberto Mancini, after he was seen socialising until the early hours of yesterday morning, in breach of a club curfew. Balotelli was at Manchester's Zouk restaurant until around 12.45am yesterday and is unlikely to have been in bed much before 2am.
Mancini tends to take a tolerant line on his players socialising and City also know the striker does not tend to drink. But the 21-year-old's presence in the city centre runs contrary to the club's rules, which dictate players must not be out socialising within 48 hours of a game. Balotelli is in the City squad to face Chelsea tonight in a match which could result in City all but ending the hopes of Andre Villas-Boas's side catching them.
Mancini, who is without Micah Richards and may play Pablo Zabaleta at right-back at Stamford Bridge tonight, feels Balotelli's move out of Manchester city centre to a home in the Cheshire village of Mottram St Andrew has removed some of the temptations which might affect his preparation for games. But his pleas to him for more discipline continue to fall on deaf ears. Balotelli went against the recommendation of club staff only three weeks ago, when he left the club hotel on the eve of City's vital Champions League tie in Napoli to meet his girlfriend Raffaella Fico at a pizza restaurant. The manager has avoided taking a hard line with the player and is unlikely to discipline him.
Tottenham's 2-1 defeat at Stoke City yesterday means Chelsea can go back into the top three tonight and Mancini said he still considers them to be title contenders, despite the 10-point lead his club have established over them.
"Remember last year, Chelsea were nine points ahead and United still won it by seven or eight points," Mancini said. "They are 10 points behind us but it's too early to say 'no'."