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Premier League

Roberto Mancini expects opponents to target Mario Balotelli


Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has warned striker Mario Balotelli to expect opponents to test his temperament.

Mancini accused Liverpool players of provoking the mercurial Italy forward when he was sent off in the Barclays Premier League leaders' draw at Anfield last week.

Balotelli's dismissal, after he received a second yellow card for a challenge on Martin Skrtel, was his third since joining City 16 months ago and Mancini fears he could become a target for streetwise opponents.

Mancini said: "Mario should pay attention and he should be clever.

"I can do nothing - only he is on the pitch.

"He should pay attention and think only about football and not other things.

"I think he made a mistake only for the first foul when he took the first yellow card. Then he should not take any risks."

Balotelli, a second-half substitute, had been on the field just 18 minutes when he clashed with Skrtel in the 83rd minute.

It was another controversial moment in the eventful career of the 21-year-old, who has shown greater consistency this season and scored nine times.

Mancini said: "He is more mature, this is clear. But in my opinion, if Mario was on the pitch in the last 20 minutes we could have won the game.

"It is important Mario understands we need him as a player on the pitch."

Balotelli is back in contention for tomorrow's home clash with Norwich after serving the ban for his red card by sitting out the midweek Carling Cup quarter-final win at Arsenal.

Midfielder Gareth Barry is also available again after a one-game suspension for reaching five yellow cards.

City are looking to protect a five-point lead but the Norwich visit begins a difficult month with the decisive final Champions League group match against Bayern Munich to come on Wednesday.

Successive games against Chelsea and Arsenal then follow before Christmas while progress to the Carling Cup semi-finals has made January's schedule tougher, with three more games against Liverpool that month.

Mancini said: "I think that now we are starting an important two months because we play hard games every three days.

"December is hard and January will be incredible.

"We will lose Yaya and Kolo (Toure) for the African Nations Cup and I hope we are lucky with injuries to players. If not we could have a serious problem."

Norwich have made a good impression since returning to the top flight this season and are 10th heading into the game at the Etihad Stadium.

Mancini said: "I think this is one of the good things in England, that all the teams try to play and want to win.

"I have watched Norwich and up until now they have done very well.

"Tomorrow we will need to do a good job.

"We play every three days, Norwich have time to prepare for these games every week."

City's hopes of progressing in the Champions League are slim but owner Sheikh Mansour this week gave an interview in which he said winning the Premier League was the top priority.

He also expressed satisfaction with progress under Mancini, who last season guided the club to their first silverware in 35 years with FA Cup glory.

Mancini said: "I think Sheikh Mansour understands we have worked well.

"I think we have built a good team in a year and a half but we need to continue to work harder.

"If we win the Barclays Premier League, for us that would be an incredible moment.

"But from now until the end, we have 25 games. It is very difficult to say now if we can win the title.

"Five points is a good gap but the season is long."

Mancini is happy with the job he has done in the near two years since his appointment but he is aiming much higher over the next two years.

He said: "City have improved a lot.

"I think we have a good mentality - we want to play to win always, away or at home.

"But we understand also in this process there will be mistakes. This is normal.

"I think in two years we can be in the four top teams in the world."