Balotelli faces return to fans' abuse at Juve

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The Independent Football

Manchester City's new striker Mario Balotelli faces a rapid reunion with the hardcore Juventus fans who subjected him to racist abuse over the past few seasons after City were drawn with the Italian giants in the group stages of the Europa League yesterday.

Meanwhile, Liverpool will also be facing Serie A opposition in Napoli.

Juventus were ordered to play a match behind closed doors last year after fans racially abused Balotelli when he was playing for his previous club, Internazionale. But when City travel to Turin this season it will be, according to the Juve chief executive Jean-Claude Blanc, a chance for the fans to prove they have changed. Blanc said: "This will be the chance for the tifosi to demonstrate that the standard has been raised – hopefully fans will behave the way they should be behaving and supporting the team, and only this.

"Supporting your team is to support your team, and not to make remarks of a racist nature toward other players. We will be extremely demanding and intransigent about this."

City have also been drawn with Austria's Salzburg and the Polish side Lech Poznan, but it is Juventus that manager Roberto Mancini will best recall for some spirited encounters when he was in charge of Inter. However, City's football administrator Brian Marwood said the club did not anticipate any targeting of either Mancini or Balotelli and that they were looking forward to testing themselves against Juve.

Marwood said: "I'm sure Mario, like all of our players, will be relishing the opportunity. He's a young man with an incredibly bright future ahead of him and we will give him every support and help that he needs. We will leave it to the authorities to deal with anything that happens but we are not anticipating any issue.

"Juventus have a great history and we are very proud to be playing against them. It's quite daunting to think we will be facing one of the greatest teams ever to have played European football but we are looking forward to the challenge.

"There's a lot of big teams in this competition and that adds to the excitement of playing in Europe," he added. "We had a good campaign last time and got to the quarter-finals and hopefully we can go further.

"Everyone knows we have invested in the team and have bought a lot of top-quality players. It's fixtures like the Juventus game that we want to be playing on a regular basis."

Liverpool take on Steaua Bucharest and Utrecht as well as Napoli in the group stages after their 2-1 victory at Trabzonspor on Thursday completed a 3-1 aggregate play-off win. The club's captain Steven Gerrard, who did not feature in Turkey, is targeting a lengthy run in the competition

"It's a strong group and I'm certainly looking forward to the games," said Gerrard. "The media will make us early favourites, I'm sure, because of our experience in the Champions League and last year in the Europa League.

"I'm confident we can get out of the group but it will be tough. The draw has given us some difficult challenges. I don't think the Europa League is the priority. Everybody knows that our league position, where we finish at the end of this year, is the priority. But it's another trophy, it's a big cup.

"We haven't won a trophy for four years now so it's important we put a good show on in all the cup competitions and try to reward the fans with a final."

Europa League Groups


Drawn in Group K alongside Steaua Bucharest, Utrecht and Napoli

16 September: Steaua Bucharest (h)

30 September: Utrecht (a)

21 October: Napoli (a)

4 November: Napoli (h)

2 December: Steaua Bucharest (a)

15 December: Utrecht (h)

Manchester City

Drawn in Group A alongside Juventus, Red Bull Salzburg and Lech Poznan

16 September: Red Bull Salzburg (a)

30 September: Juventus (h)

21 October: Lech Poznan (h)

4 November: Lech Poznan (a)

1 December: Red Bull Salzburg (h)

16 December: Juventus (a)