Mancini: I love Balotelli
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Manchester City could unleash Mario Balotelli on the UEFA Champions League next week. The maverick Italian forward has sat out City's opening three games in the competition while serving a suspension hanging over from last season.

The 21-year-old is now enjoying the best spell of his City career after playing his way back into manager Roberto Mancini's affections with a series of increasingly influential displays. Such has been the maturity of his performances of late that even the off-field controversies that continue to follow him - such as last week's infamous firework episode - are now enhancing his status as a cult hero.

It seems Mancini is prepared to accept the baggage that goes with Balotelli if his attitude in training and in games remains good. Balotelli will undoubtedly be itching to get involved at Villarreal on Wednesday as City look for a second successive win to get their Group A campaign firmly on track.

Mancini said: "Mario in the last two months was more serious. He has trained very well. I hope he can continue like this but I don't know if it is possible!

"For the supporters he is an important player, an important guy, but this is normal. He scored two goals in a derby, he has been scoring a goal every time. As a player he is fantastic. I joke when I say he is crazy, I love him. I know he is a good guy."

City travel to Spain after securing their first win in the competition with a last-gasp Sergio Aguero goal against the same side at the Etihad Stadium last week. Another victory would keep the pressure up on group leaders Bayern Munich and Napoli ahead of the final two fixtures.

As a player he is fantastic. I joke when I say he is crazy, I love him. I know he is a good guy.
Roberto Mancini on Mario Balotelli

City still have to travel to Naples before hosting German giants Bayern in their final game. Reflecting on the last encounter with Villarreal, who have since been weakened by a serious injury to star striker Giuseppe Rossi, Mancini said: "When we score a goal in the last second, it is perfect. It was important, that game.

"They also played very well but we had more possession, we had four or five clear chances to score, so I think we deserved the result. Now for first place everything is open. With a draw it would have been very difficult. Now we have three games, two away one at home and I think it is good."

With City flying high in the Premier League as well as enjoying the Champions League for the first time, these are heady days for the club. Mancini added: "I think it is the best moment for the club in the last 40 years.

"I am happy for the supporters because for them it is a fantastic moment but for us every few days we should think about a different opponent. "We know that in two or three games everything can change so if we want to try to stay on the floor we should have the same concentration for every game."