With an international break this week some of the intense pressure on Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has eased……….for now.
After losing – some might say it was more a case of rolling over and playing dead – last Sunday to Chelsea, City slipped to 4th in the Barclay’s Premier League. It brings an end to a run of 13 rounds when there enjoyed a heady position in the top three. City now trail Chelsea by a point and have also played a game more than the London club.
Although there are still eight rounds to play for City, it looks like another battle for 4th against Spurs is the most likely outcome over the remaining weeks of the season. If Spurs can win their game in hand, the gap between 5th placed Spurs and City will be a single point although City may also benefit from a better goal differential.
City’s run-in does not require them to leave the North-West with all their away games “regional” derbies. Although travel is limited the fixtures are not easy. The remaining schedule runs like this: Sunderland (h), Liverpool (a), Blackburn (a), West Ham (h), Everton (a), Stoke (h) and Bolton (a).
There will also be the very important home fixture against Spurs to be fitted in as City have an appointment against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi on the original league date.
Mancini desperately needs another catalyst to spark a City side that has often looked sluggish against better opposition and when stubborn opposition needs to be broken. Carlos Tevez has been the man that Mancini has depended upon and with 18 league goals the Argentine striker has more than pulled his weight. His goal production far outstrips any other City player this season.
Mancini has spent a lot of money and he also inherited some expensive acquisitions made by his predecessors. But even so the team still has the look of a side built for function – to grind out a result – rather than one equipped to go out and impose their collective will on the opposition with pace and imagination.
Pace and imagination are two of the qualities often associated with Mario Balotelli who signed last summer from Inter. Unfortunately preening, self-involved and indulgent are others often linked to the 20-year-old.
The decision by Mancini to sign Balotelli for around $38M remains puzzling and in the opinion of many it was a massive and foolhardy gamble.
Certainly Balotelli has great potential but it has been shown repeatedly that signing rising stars is a much greater gamble than those who may have less potential but are more mature and constitute more of the finished article.
Even the most emotionally mature youngsters can suffer “growing-pains” let alone one who’s default behaviour is tantamount to tossing toys from the pram.
To take such a moody individual who has shown such a little sense of “team” while at Inter and expect him to suddenly change for the better while acclimatizing to a foreign country and league seems grossly optimistic.
And for Mancini to try and pull that off while trying a meld an expensive group of stars seems more like a death-wish than astute football management.
For while Mancini showed the utmost faith in Balotelli, Balotelli has not returned the trust. His red-card against Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League was the latest example.
Balotelli’s action against Dynamo was irresponsible and it placed Mancini between a rock and hard place when it came to selecting his side against Chelsea on Sunday. With Carlos Tevez out with a groin injury Balotelli would certainly have been high on the list of options to replace the Argentine player.
However, to start Balotelli would have been interpreted as the manager indulging the young Italian. Manicini’s hand was forced – figuratively – and Balotelli started on the bench and remained there for much of the match. Just when Mancini needed him, he could not play him.
Which of course leads to the logical question of why keep him around at Eastlands? If Balotelli is to have a future at Eastlands it may well be decided over the next eight weeks and the same may be true for Roberto Mancini.
If – and it is an extremely large if – Balotelli can contribute to City’s late season run in the league and cup in a positive way then we may well see the “Balotelli experiment” continue into next season.
If not then do not be surprised if Balotelli is sent packing back to Serie A along with the man who thought that such a high-risk individual was worth risking his career in Manchester for.
You can also find other Soccer Report Extra.com contributors on Twitter by following this link.
Please refrain from posting comments that;
The House reserves the right to delete any such comments and to block further participation on the site.