Balotelli asks for time to adjust to hard-hitting Premier League

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The Independent Online

Should Roberto Mancini need any further indication that what happens in the Europa League has no bearing on a manager's future, he should consider tonight's opponents.

Having drawn away to Juventus and beaten Red Bull Salzburg, you might have expected Lech Poznan's manager, Jacek Zielinski, to feel reasonably secure. However, the Polish champions have spent most of this season in and around the relegation zone in the Ekstraklasa and although a 4-1 win over Wisla Krakow pulled them up to the dizzying heights of third bottom, it was not enough to save Zielinski's job. Yesterday, he was replaced by Jose Maria Bakero, a member of Johan Cruyff's Barcelona "Dream Team" that won the European Cup at Wembley in 1992.

Manchester City are fourth top in the Premier League rather than third bottom but the Europa League offers something of a sanctuary from the on-field rows and questions over Mancini's ability to mould disparate talents into a side capable of winning the League or indeed any kind of trophy.

City have fond memories of Polish opposition. Forty years ago, their victory over Gornik Zabrze secured the Cup Winners' Cup for Joe Mercer and the late Malcolm Allison and victory tonight in the modern, futuristic Miejski Stadion, whose design and blue seats are reminiscent of Eastlands, would see them through to the group stages with something to spare.

Tonight's game would also give Mario Balotelli another chance to come to terms with his new team-mates – something he admitted he had failed to do before the team flew out to Poland. Although he announced himself by coming off the bench to score the winner in Manchester City's qualifier in Timisoara in August, injury meant that Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Wolves was his first start since his move from Internazionale.

"It was difficult for me because it was my first full game after so many injuries," the 20-year-old said. "Now I have to get as many games as possible under my belt so I can understand the way the game is played over here because it is very different from Italy.

"The tackles are harder and the referees don't seem to blow very often for fouls. In Italy, when someone makes contact with you, it's a foul but that is not the case in England. This was my first game and it wasn't easy for me because I need to get to know my team-mates on the pitch, to understand their movement and that comes with time." Time is something City do not have and may not be allowed. While a Europa League trophy would do very nicely for now, it is not a competition that Sheikh Mansour has spent so much to participate in – and it a feeling shared by his players.

"I am at City to play Champions League football. That's the competition I want to be in and so do all the other players," Balotelli said. "I want to be the best player in the world. I have said in the past that I don't care what other people want from me because I will always give everything to be the best."

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