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City try to play down talk of new Balotelli row

Manchester City attempted to downplay talk of another rift with their controversial forward Mario Balotelli after the Premier League champions produced their best form of the season in a 3-0 victory over Sunderland on Saturday.

Goals from Aleksandar Kolarov, Sergio Aguero, who replaced Balotelli after 55 minutes, and James Milner were accompanied by City’s first clean sheet of the campaign.

But the game was overshadowed somewhat by the behaviour of Balotelli who sauntered off the field and stormed directly down the tunnel to the City dressing room after being substituted.

City coach David Platt refused to be drawn on a subject over which the club has become increasingly sensitive.

“I don’t know,” said Platt when asked why Balotelli had walked down the tunnel instead of taking his place on the City bench.

Platt responded in identical fashion when asked if it was normal procedure for a player to walk down the tunnel rather than watch the rest of the match.

And Platt confirmed that Balotelli’s removal from the game was a purely tactical decision and not one enforced by injury to the Italian, who has yet to score in the league this season.

City manager Roberto Mancini unconvincingly claimed that he was happy with Balotelli’s performance.

“Mario worked a lot, he had a chance,” Mancini said.

“I am happy with Mario. Mario played a good game, I think he can do better.”

But the player’s behaviour has undoubtedly attracted unwanted attention, following on from his last league appearance at Eastlands when Mancini pushed the player down the tunnel after the pair were seen exchanging angry words on the final whistle.

Despite the tantrum, City were in clinical form against Sunderland, looking convincing after a slow start to the season had raised question marks about their ability to retain the title.

“It was important to get this victory before the international break,” said Mancini.

“If we didn’t play very well in the first five games in the league, the last two we have played really well. I think we have improved.

“I think it was a very good performance. It wasn’t easy because Sunderland are a good team. Everybody plays well against us so this was a difficult game.”

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