Reading-Manchester City Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Manchester City are trying to continue capitalizing on a seemingly favourable schedule in order to gain ground in the Premier League race.
It's unclear if their most volatile player will get a chance to help them.
With Mario Balotelli's status unclear, City attempts to win back-to-back matches for the first time in a month by capitalizing on woeful Reading at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Man City (10-6-1) followed a 3-2 loss to league leaders Manchester United on Dec. 9 with a 3-1 victory at Newcastle last weekend. The match was the first of a stretch of five in what seems to be an advantageous fixture list that may allow City to close the six-point gap on United in the league table.
After facing last-place Reading, the Citizens will visit Sunderland and Norwich CIty before returning home to face Stoke City on Jan. 1
While Manchester City seem to be in position to go on a strong run, they may have to do it without Balotelli, who was dropped against Newcastle after he was ineffective as a starter in the Manchester derby.
"Mario has a future," manager Roberto Mancini told the team's official website. "He is just at home only because he needs to work, if he had deserved to play because he had worked well then he would have done like all of the other players."
Balotelli's status was clouded further earlier this week when he accepted a two-week fine by the club for repeated on-field misbehavior last season, avoiding a legal case.
Combined with being dropped by Mancini, the fine is fanning the flames of rumours linking Balotelli with a move away from City.
If that's not enough, then his play may warrant a departure. He's managed one goal in 13 Premier League matches after hitting the net 13 times last season.
Production from Sergio Aguero surely helps. The forward ended a five-game goal drought last weekend, scoring in the 10th minute.
"Aguero and (Carlos) Tevez are perfect because they play so well together but we have Edin (Dzeko) to come in as well and Mario," Mancini said.
Gareth Barry may be back in the lineup. The midfielder served a one-game suspension against Newcastle for using abusive and insulting words towards a match official following the defeat to Manchester United.
Mancini may be afforded a chance to experiment with his lineup against Reading (1-6-10), who have been outscored 17-7 while losing six matches in a row.
The Royals' woeful run continued last weekend, when they surrendered the first four goals and never recovered in a 5-2 defeat to Arsenal.
"We know what we've got to do, we know we're right in the middle of it," forward Noel Hunt told the team's official website. "But we're willing to fight. We can't give up, that's for sure.
"We've got to go there with a big fight in us. We've got to got there with pride and no fear whatsoever. I've been at this club for a long time now and I'm a proud man. I'm proud of this club and for me, there's nothing left to do but fight."
Adam Le Fondre is tied with Pavel Pogrebnyak for the team lead with five goals, but the English forward has tallied four of his in the past seven matches after scoring once against the Gunners.
City won 1-0 at home versus Reading in the most recent meeting March 13, 2011, en route to an FA Cup title.
Updated December 20, 2012