Premier League

Mancini denies rift with Balotelli

Roberto Mancini (L) has a tempestuous relationship with Man City striker Mario Balotelli.
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Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini insists he has not fallen out with Mario Balotelli.

Mancini has a tempestuous relationship with the fiery Italy forward.

Frequently the City manager has spoken out about Balotelli's behaviour and general lifestyle, at one point declaring the former Inter Milan man had no future at the Etihad Stadium.

When Balotelli was left out of Mancini's squad altogether for the midweek Champions League tie with Real Madrid, it suggested another major bust-up.

Stories appeared to that effect in the aftermath of City's 3-2 defeat in the Bernabeu, although sources close to the player insisted he behaved normally on the flight back to England.

And whilst Mancini could hardly claim Balotelli was overjoyed at missing such a high-profile game, the Italian insisted there was no deep-rooted issue.

"I don't have any problem with him," said Mancini.

"There has been no argument. Absolutely not.

"This story is totally false.

"Mario went to the stand because we decided to play only with (Carlos) Tevez and I can't put three strikers on the bench.

"Mario is a player like the other players. He can go on the bench or in the stand."

Balotelli is expected to be involved on Sunday, when City host in-form Arsenal, especially as former Gunner Samir Nasri is unlikely to be fit after limping out of the Madrid defeat with a hamstring injury.

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Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero should be involved though, which is positive news for the Blues who have not started the campaign with any degree of fluency.

In the Premier League they remain undefeated. However, they have conceded in every match so far, have been forced to come from behind in three of their opening four games and are yet to register a clean sheet.

It is hardly the best backdrop to a visit from an Arsenal side who, like City, have collected eight points so far, but most recently secured an excellent win at Liverpool before belting six goals past Southampton, one of the teams Mancini's men have struggled against.

"This is not going to be an easy game," said Mancini.

"We have started the season with some problems and other injuries.

"But it is important we produce a good performance."

Arsenal's form has been surprising because they went into the new campaign with such low expectations.

Yet again, key players left the Emirates, including Robin van Persie, a confirmed City target who ended up joining Manchester United instead.

In recent years though, City has been a regular choice for wantaway Gunners.

Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy and finally Nasri all chose life at the Etihad over remaining in north London.

However, despite other notable departures, including Cesc Fabregas, somehow Arsene Wenger has still managed to find a team capable of reaching the Champions League.

And arguably, the Gunners are now at their strongest for a number of years.

Certainly, while most pundits expect the Premier League title to be won by either of the two Manchester clubs or Champions League winners Chelsea, Mancini is not writing Arsenal off recapturing the crown for the first time since 2004.

"Arsenal can compete for the title this year," said Mancini.

"They have less pressure from last year because they have sold two or three important players like Robin van Persie and Alex Song.

"Maybe they can do better than last year for this reason.

"Plus all the players he bought are good players with experience."

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