Balotelli cast as calming influence
Manchester City have the unlikely figure of Mario Balotelli to thank for easing tension ahead of a crucial week in their season.
The controversial striker produced one of his best City performances by providing the inspiration for a comfortable 4-1 win over Aston Villa which took them top of the Barclays Premier League on Saturday. After a number of run-ins with manager Roberto Mancini, it was a timely contribution from the 21-year-old ahead of the resumption of City's stuttering Champions League campaign in midweek.
Midfielder Nigel de Jong believes Balotelli is beginning to realise his responsibilities as a City player and the Dutchman told City TV: "I think he is getting it now, why we always try to teach him a lesson. He is getting it slowly but surely. You have to give him credit for the last couple of weeks, not just on the pitch but in the training sessions."
He added: "He is behaving quite normal for him. Everyone is happy to be with him.
"Nobody ever doubted his qualities but with great qualities you need to have big responsibilities as well - not only on the pitch but outside as well. I think he showed that to the group and Manchester City as well in the last couple of weeks."
City dominated headlines throughout the recent international break as controversy surrounding Carlos Tevez continued to unfold. Balotelli, whose opening goal against Villa was his fourth in four games, took the heat out of that situation with an-all action performance which included some confident interaction with away fans at the Etihad Stadium.
City can now look forward to Tuesday's crunch clash with Villarreal and the eagerly-anticipated derby with Manchester United five days later with renewed vigour.
Balotelli took advantage of Mancini's decision to leave Edin Dzeko, David Silva and Samir Nasri on the bench and not to risk Sergio Aguero after injury as he provided much of City's attacking thrust.
After testing Shay Given, he gave City the lead with a sharp overhead kick and continued to bother previously unbeaten Villa throughout, bringing another fine save from the keeper in the second half.
On the downside there were occasional displays of frustration and an apparent collision with Given, but the biggest disappointment for City is that he is suspended for the Villarreal encounter.