Roberto Mancini has told Mario Balotelli to "be a hero" ahead of Manchester City's crucial season run-in. City play an FA Cup semi-final this Saturday, and have six remaining league games as they attempt to secure Champions League qualification for next season. Balotelli's debut season at City has been mixed, and Mancini believes that some crucial goals "would change his year".
With Carlos Tevez likely to miss much of the run-in with a hamstring injury, Mancini believes Balotelli can carry the goal-scoring burden in big games. "Mario knows he must take more responsibility," said the man who brought the Italian to City from Internazionale last summer. "We have six league games, plus the semi-final and the final. I hope Mario can score important goals."
"He could be the hero," added Mancini. "On Saturday, if he plays, he has a chance to do well. Maybe if he scores a goal it could take us to the final. That would change his year."
Balotelli has scored 10 goals so far in just 16 starts in a season hit by knee injuries. He has also been booked nine times and sent off twice, including 36 minutes into an important Europa League match with Dynamo Kiev, in which City were eliminated.
Despite his struggles, Balotelli has so far proven better value for money than Edin Dzeko, who has scored no league goals and four in the cups since joining City for £27m in January. "We need Dzeko to be good now," said Mancini. "He has the same problem that Fernando Torres has at Chelsea. Dzeko is a fantastic striker but when you join a team in January, he has new team-mates and a new manager with new methods."
Joe Hart believes City will have no problem raising themselves for Saturday's game, despite the disappointment of their 3-0 defeat to Liverpool on Monday. "It won't be difficult to lift ourselves," said the England goal-keeper. "It is football. We have not really felt anything like that all season. It made me want to do well more. I want to push on. Hopefully the other lads feel the same.
"It is not the end of the world but to anyone who is human, that hurts. We need to use it. Personally, it has made me angry and wanting to finish the season well. Saturday takes care of itself. It is a massive day and a massive occasion for everyone – we need to be prepared and do better than we did [at Liverpool]."