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The Toe Poke

Balotelli could return for derby

Striker Mario Balotelli is winning his fitness battle to be available for the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Saturday, with the young striker undergoing an intensive rehab programme on his injured knee.

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Balotelli, 20, picked up the injury in Manchester City's clash against Aston Villa at the end of December and spent nearly a fortnight under the care of Bill Knowles - a strength and conditioning expert - in the United States.

Since returning from Vermont nine days ago, the Italian, with Knowles on hand to give advice, has undertaken a number of solo sessions in a bid to be available for the crunch game at the weekend.

Last week, City boss Roberto Mancini said he believed Balotelli would be ready to face United and first-team coach David Platt is also confident over the player's fitness levels, hinting he could yet make the starting XI.

"Mario came back last Monday and he's continued with his rehab work. He's stepped it up and so far, so good," Platt told the Times. "I would think it's certainly not a given that he'll only be on the bench against Man United."


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