Balotelli-dependent Milan welcome back Mario

Mario Balotelli is poised to return for AC Milan at the weekend after serving a two-match suspension amid worrying signs his side have become over-dependent on him.

Third-placed Milan, who scored one goal and took only one point during Balotelli's absence, host Catania on a weekend when Napoli must win at stragglers Pescara to prevent runaway leaders Juventus wrapping up their second successive title.

Juve, 11 points clear of Napoli with five games to play, visit Torino and will clinch their 29th Serie A title if they win on Sunday and Napoli draw or lose on Saturday.

Even if they do not settle matters this weekend, they will have another four attempts after that and it seems to be a question of when rather than if they will win the title.

Napoli, meanwhile, look likely to finish second and follow Juventus into the Champions League group stage, but the battle for third, the place in the qualifying round, is far from over.

Milan have seen the gap between themselves and fourth-placed Fiorentina whittled down to one point with Inter a further five points behind in fifth. Fiorentina visit Sampdoria on Sunday.

"We need to give gas to our players and our coach to help them qualify for the Champions League for the 11th time in 12 years," Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani said.

"Once we do that, hopefully we will have a team that is probably integrated and hopefully next season we can fight for the scudetto."

The question remains over whether Balotelli's presence helps or hinders the team.

The maverick striker has scored an impressive seven goals in eight matches since his arrival from Manchester City at the end of January, while Milan have managed 17 Serie A goals in that period.

Only five other players have hit the target since Balotelli's arrival - Stephan El Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini, Mathieu Flamini, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Riccardo Montolivo.

The most worrying drop in form has been El Shaarawy, third top scorer in Serie A, who netted 15 goals before Balotelli's arrival and only one since.

Balotelli had largely behaved himself until it all went wrong three weeks ago.

He was caught smoking in a toilet on board the train which took Milan to their match at Fiorentina, then needlessly got booked for failing to retreat at a free kick and earned an automatic one-match suspension for accumulated yellow cards.

That ban was extended to three matches after he insulted match officials, though it was later cut back to two on appeal.

Milan will have to cross their fingers and hope that weekend was just a blip and that his return galvanises the team again.


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