The Italian striker looked certain to move on this summer but he could salvage his City career with an explosive display in the most hyped-up Premier League match in memory
By Miles Chambers
By all rights he should not be there, and it would be outrageous if he won City the match, but - make no mistake - if used to his full potential, the Italian can fire his team-mates back to the top of the Premier League.
City’s slump coincided with a poor run of form from Balotelli - when he was not sulking, he was scuffing half-hearted shots off-target. The club’s three wins in three matches during the Italian’s absence is surely not a fluke.
The final five minutes in their comeback to earn a 3-3 draw against Sunderland was the only period of play in recent memory where he looked like the formidable talent he has the potential to be.
His Arsenal performance was surely a new low - petulant and pathetic, his only impact on the game was rallying the Gunners with every wayward tackle.
When he was finally sent off in the dying embers of the north London side’s 1-0 victory, the circus sideshow seemed to signal the end for Balotelli’s career at the Etihad Stadium.
|CITY'S STRIKERS THIS SEASON
Mancini had said his fellow Italian would not play again this season and hinted a summer move away from the Etihad was a probable outcome, but the Carlos Tevez saga has shown his capacity to forgive when it comes to his precocious players.
The Argentine, expelled from the first team for refusing to play in a Champions League tie back in September, was successfully implemented back into the City side in March and is looking sharp heading into the meeting with his old employers.
They have an illustrious midfield - one you could sit and salivate over all day long - but a title-winning team needs a quality strikeforce. Mancini is clearly keenly aware of this and when the two ferocious rivals walk out onto the Etihad Stadium pitch on Monday, he knows he will have a more united City team should Balotelli be in the mix.
Hopefully - for his sake and the sanity of his team-mates - his three-match ban has given Balotelli time to think, and to realise he cannot act like a spoilt brat when he pulls on his City shirt.
There is no guarantee the 21-year-old will be adorning the sky blue kit at the start of next season, but even if he fancies a move back to Italy he must see the benefits of putting in a blinder should he be given the nod on Monday night.
On their travels, City have looked brittle but their home has been a fortress in the league. United are one of only two teams to have won at the ground this year, in a 3-2 victory in the FA Cup third round.
|WHY ALWAYS HIM?
|18/1||Mario Balotell is 18/1 with Paddy Power to be sent off in Monday's Manchester derby.|
If Mancini’s men win they will be level on points with United with a superior goal difference, and only have to match the results of Sir Alex Ferguson's side to realistically finish as Premier League champions.
The hype swirling about Monday’s match will swallow egos whole but Balotelli’s skull is made of stronger stuff and pre-match expectations are unlikely to affect him.
After all, this is the man who led the line and bagged a brace in the reverse fixture at Manchester United in their 6-1 thumping earlier in the season the day after having fireworks explode in his bathroom.
City recorded one of their most memorable victories on that October afternoon at a horror-struck Old Trafford. Nobody believes that result can be replicated. But you can bet Balotelli does.