MANCHESTER // Roberto Mancini believes hat-trick hero Mario Balotelli might be suffering from homesickness but is confident the Italy striker still has a big future at Manchester City.
It has been claimed that the 20-year-old wants to return home, less than six months after leaving Inter Milan.
Certainly Balotelli has not always looked the happiest figure and even after his two penalties and first-half tap-in that steered City towards an impressive win over Aston Villa at Eastlands yesterday, he was not as ecstatic as most of his teammates.
But Mancini feels that public non-expression of joy is just an act, and that the pangs of unhappiness are merely the normal reaction of a young man separated from his family.
"It could be that he is homesick," said Mancini. "But I don't think it is a long-term problem.
"He is 20. It is the first time he has left his family. It is normal for him to miss them."
As for the reluctance to celebrate, something Mancini chided Balotelli about less than a week ago, the City boss reflected: "Every player has his behaviour.
"That is part of his image. Mario is a good guy. He is not like he is on the pitch. He likes to create this image of being hard. But today he was happy because the supporters supported him throughout the game."
Mancini even joked that his wish for 2011 would be for Balotelli to smile far more often.
The Italian will have something to smile about at the end of the season if City continue to meet opponents as ragged as Villa were this afternoon.
Gerard Houllier's side simply had no answer to the brilliance of David Silva, who toyed with the midlands outfit and had a major part in two of Balotelli's goals.
Adam Johnson claimed the other two assists, the first a corner that Joleon Lescott steered home with a near post header that might not actually have crossed the line before Barry Bannan cleared it.
But if it was a day of bright points for Mancini as Balotelli's treble and a Joleon Lescott header gave them a sizeable win, it was a complete constrast for his opposite number Houllier.
His men have won just three times in 14 Premier League matches with Villa and he now concedes they are in a relegation dogfight.
"Before this game, another three points, which we could have got against Fulham or Manchester United, would have put us in the top half," reflected the Frenchman.
"But I told the players they also have to look the other way. There is a drop zone behind and we are very near. We are in a dogfight for that. We have to acknowledge that."
Houllier revealed Ashley Young may return from a knee injury when Villa face fellow struggling Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
Norwegian striker John Carew should also come into contention too after strangely telling Houllier he was not fit enough to play having missed a couple of days' training after getting caught in the travel chaos that accompanied the recent snow.
"John Carew would have been in the squad but he came to me and told me he was not fit enough," said Houllier.
"I have to accept the explanation. There was snow everywhere."