Premier League

Milan and Juve in Balotelli hunt

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Mon, 28 Jan 2013 23:32:00

Wolves central defender Richard Stearman is poised to join Ipswich on loan for the remainder of the season.

Town manager Mick McCarthy has turned to the 25-year-old, who he knows well from his time in charge at Molineux, as he looks to boost his defensive options at Portman Road.

The former England U21 international has been restricted to just eight starts for Wolves in the Championship this season with Christophe Berra and Roger Johnson preferred at centre-back.

Stearman may have been hoping for a chance under new boss Dean Saunders but is now heading to Wolves' Championship rivals.

Wolves tweeted: "Defender Richard Stearman is to join Ipswich on loan until the end of the season, subject to formalities of the deal being concluded."

The controversial striker has been continually linked with Milan throughout the current transfer window while Juve's interest has only just emerged.

Yet while news of the talks may increase the possibility of a sale before Thursday's transfer deadline, City are still likely to hold out for a price they believe represents good value.

As manager Roberto Mancini has maintained throughout the month, City are not actively pushing to sell. The contact is understood to have been initiated from the Italian end.

City have not yet accepted an offer for Balotelli.

Speculation in Italy has suggested Milan are prepared to pay ?20million plus add-ons.

Previous reports have claimed City rate Balotelli's worth at around ?28million. He cost ?24million when he signed from Inter Milan in August 2010.

Contrary to some reports, Balotelli has travelled with the City squad to London for Tuesday's Barclays Premier League game at QPR.

The forward is available for the game having overcome the virus which kept him out of Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round win at Stoke.

Balotelli's future has been a matter of uncertainty since a below-par display in the derby defeat by Manchester United on December 9.

He has not started a game for the club since, first after being dropped and then because of a spell out through illness.

There have been two substitute appearances in January but he has long been fourth-choice striker behind Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko.

Balotelli's campaign as a whole has been an underwhelming one with just three goals, only one of which was in the Premier League.

There have been fewer of the off-field controversies which blighted his first two seasons at City this term, but that was forgotten after a high-profile training-ground bust-up with Mancini earlier this month.

Yet even as many observers were claiming that incident had to be the final straw for Mancini, the fiercely loyal manager himself said he was prepared to give him "another 100 chances".

Mancini has also stated repeatedly that Balotelli will not be leaving that club and pointed out that, with three years left on his contract, his former Inter protege remains a big part of his plans.

But it did not quell persistent rumours from Italy suggesting that Milan would make a move, nor did conflicting statements from senior figures at the San Siro.

Milan president Silvio Berlusconi has been quoted describing Balotelli as a "rotten apple" and that the club cannot pay "Monopoly money" for him in recent weeks. Chief executive Adriano Galliani has also made regular statements about the player.

It now remains to be seen whether they or Juventus can push through a deal of sufficient value to City and, if so, in time for them to find an adequate replacement.

Whether or not Balotelli plays, the matter is likely to be raised in the aftermath of the game at Loftus Road as the transfer window enters its final 24 hours.

One important player who will not feature against the bottom side is captain Vincent Kompany, who limped off with a calf strain in the first half at the Britannia Stadium.

Kompany is also doubtful for Sunday's home clash with Liverpool and, with the defender having been troubled by similar injuries in the past, assistant boss David Platt admits there is a worry.

Platt said: "It is a concern that it's not a fresh injury. The calf is the strangest muscle - there is probably more re-occurrence than with hamstrings, groins and things like that.

"And it has happened on a couple of occasions, but the concern is to make sure we clear the problem and that is what we will be working through."

City, short on defensive options with Kolo Toure at the African Nations Cup, are hoping Matija Nastasic can overcome a minor knee problem to return alongside Joleon Lescott.

Alternatives include 18-year-old Karim Rekik, midfielders Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell or playing a three-man defence.

With leaders Manchester United not in action until Wednesday, City can apply pressure to their rivals by cutting their lead at the top of the table to two points with victory over Harry Redknapp's QPR.

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