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 currently two points clear ofUnited 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.
"I nevertheless sent Prandelli a text. In the message, I explained the situation. I always told him to be open with me and say where I've gone wrong. I guaranteed him that I am calm and that I'm training well. But I didn't apologise because there is nothing to apologise for."
Italy struggled without Balotelli and lost 1-0 – their first ever defeat by the United States. "I'm not worried about the defeat to the USA and you will understand why after the European Championships," Balotelli said.
The Italy international also spoke of his latest misdemeanour. Balotelli emerged from a Liverpool strip bar in the early hours of Friday morning ahead of Saturday's game at home with Bolton despite a club curfew.
"I didn't do anything wrong at the club," he said. "But I understand that if she [girlfriend Raffaella Fico] had gone with her friends to a strip club, I would have been very angry. If you love a woman, you can avoid causing that pain. That was my first mistake. The second was to go two days before a game."
On whether he has received a £250,000 fine by City for breaking the curfew, Balotelli said: "I still don't know. I must talk with [City manager Roberto] Mancini."
Mancini recently said that marriage could solve Balotelli's disciplinary problems. And Balotelli has not ruled out marrying his girlfriend.
"For me it's not too soon," he said. "Raffaella is the most beautiful thing that has happened to me. She gives me calmness. She is very understanding when I do something wrong. We have spoken about marriage a few times but that doesn't mean that we will do it tomorrow.
"Once her work commitments allow her, she comes to Manchester. She is happy with me and I will follow her and play wherever."
For all Balotelli's confidence of holding off their city rivals for the title, United defender Jonny Evans feels the blue half of Manchester will be feeling the pressure of being top of the table.
"We've been through it before," he said. "City have got quite a few experienced players and strong characters in their team, but no matter how many times you've been through it, you always feel the heat.
"I think you go out with maybe a bit more determination when you're chasing. When you're in the driving seat and two points clear, you maybe think you can drop a point here or there, but when you're behind you can't afford to make any mistakes."
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