Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli has urged fans to hold back on their boos when fellow striker Carlos Tevez returns to action after his lengthy fall-out with the Premier League leaders.
Argentine Tevez, who scored his first goal in a City shirt on Tuesday playing for the reserves, is getting closer to a first-team return although manager Roberto Mancini has not said whether he will feature against Swansea City on Sunday.
What reception he would get is the subject of much speculation as fans who burned shirts with his name on during his unauthorized absence prepare to see him don the sky blue kit they thought their former captain would never wear again.
Balotelli, who along with forwards Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko has ensured City have barely missed Tevez who has not played for the club since September, sought to get fans to welcome back the Argentine as he has apologized for his actions.
“I think supporters have to be like they were before. If they make pressure on Carlos, they make pressure to all the team, so they should do nothing,” Balotelli told the BBC.
“I think everyone can make a mistake. Carlos is part of the team. He's just a part of the team, so everybody loves him.”
The Swansea game is probably too soon for Tevez to return, although there could be an opening if Mancini rests some players before next week’s Europa League round-of-16 second leg at home to Sporting when they need to overturn a 1-0 deficit.
The Italian, whose side are two points clear of champions Manchester United at the top of the Premier League, cannot afford to take any chances at mid-table Swansea -- a team he has praised for playing the most attractive football in the league.
“It will be a tricky game because Swansea play very well ... and I think we need to play very well if we want to beat them," Mancini said on the club’s website.
“Swansea at home are fantastic, they are having a good season, but we must continue to win. It will be a good championship until the end.”
City make the trip to Wales without captain Vincent Kompany, who faces at least 10 days on the sidelines with a calf injury sustained against Sporting on Thursday.
Mancini’s team have 66 points from 27 matches, having also amassed a huge goal difference of 50, and with third-placed Tottenham Hotspur trailing by 13 points, the stage has been set for a title showdown against United on April 30.
Before that, City’s main challenges on paper are a home match against Chelsea and a trip to Arsenal but Mancini pointed out there were plenty of other pitfalls.
“I think every game from now until the end will be problematic because we play against teams that play for relegation, against teams that play for the Champions League or for the title,” he said. “Every game will be difficult.’