Monday, 23 January 2012

Thief or saviour?

The eternally combustible Mario Balotelli was centre stage yet again yesterday as City almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against a Spurs side that will feel that they were robbed.

No one at all will remember the first 45 minutes of football. City looked the more likely to score, with Sergio Aguero producing a good save from Spurs keeper Brad Freidel. But that was largely it, as both sides weighed each other up.

The second 45 minutes was a goal fest, as the tide swept (not ebbed) one way and then swept back the next, almost with disastrous consequences for the Blues.

Once again, it was the man of the season David Silva that first picked the lock, splitting open the Spurs defence with a pass of great vision to Samir Nasri, and the former Arsenal man’s shot flew into the back of the net, leaving Friedel no chance.

Three minutes later and City were two up, this time with a goal that was the polar opposite of the first. A great flick on from Edin Dzeko saw Joleon Lescott scramble the ball over the line.

Led by the impressive Aguero, who was probably City’s best player all afternoon, the Blues were cruising, but not for long.

I’ve written recently about giving younger players a chance as we experience our so-called resource crisis. Mancini once again placed his faith in Stefan Savic here, and once again the younger clearly was the weak link. A nervous defensive header back to Joe Hart did not have the power to reach the England number one, and Jermaine Defoe pounced, rounded Hart, and made it 2-1.

You had to take your hat off to Gareth Bale’s equalizer. The Welshman’s strike was a perfect combination of precision and power, as the ball looped over Hart’s head and into the back of the net. That goal made up for a shocker of a mis-kick earlier in the half, where Bale got his feet all wrong and ended up scuffing his shot in the box.

From here on in, you felt it was damage limitation for City.

Defoe gave Savic a torrid time. Spurs were looking increasingly lethal on the counter attack after that goal, and there were a few backline misunderstandings between Savic and Lescott. But the young Serbian is learning all the time, and I back Mancini’s decision to put him in the firing line.

The same cannot be said of Dzeko, who is hardly green, either to first team football or to the Premier League now. Aside from his fantastic flick to allow us to score the second, he seemed to get in the way and slow play down for us, with not much of an understanding with the fiery Aguero and quick-witted Silva. He looked the odd man out going forward.

At any rate the game boiled down to two late events. As the game came to a close, Spurs broke once again with intent. Defoe was whiskers away from winning the game, almost getting to Bale’s crossed, but City escaped, seemingly with the draw.

But yet another twist saw Balotelli, on for the substituted Dzeko, brought down in the area by Ledley King. The Italian slotted home the penalty and the win was ours.

Of course the controversy is now turning on whether Balotelli should have been on the pitch. Already booked for a challenge on Benoit Assou-Ekotto, the Italian challenged Scott Parker for the ball in what looked like a fair coming together. However, upon the replay you can see that the Italian, unexplainably, did stamp on Parker.

We should accept the incoming FA ban and get it over with, rather than appealing and incurring an extra game. He might well miss the Carling Cup Semi against Liverpool but we need him for the league.

At any rate, it was a remarkable victory by the Blues. We let Spurs back into the game, but we were seriously understrength whereas they pretty much were at full tilt. Still, the match turned away from Spurs.

At the end of the day we did what could to win, and we did. The omens are good. Maybe we didn’t deserve to win, but to do so in the manner we did just underlines the threat that we have now become.

But we can be our own worst enemy. The unpredictability of Mario Balotelli is the stuff of titles, but it is also the stuff of madness and the unexplainable. In him, we have a weapon that no other team possesses. Unfortunately, sometimes that weapon has a tendency of hurting the hand that controls it.

However, you do sense that it will be our own actions, and not the actions of others, that will either win or lose us this title.


  1. Anonymous24/1/12 01:46

    I have watched the incident so many times and I still can't make my mind up whether it was deliberate or not. In mitigation, Mario clashed with Parker and was already off balance when Modric pushes Mario who, seems to be falling backwards and puts his left foot down in order to regain his balance. Secondly, Howard Webb was right in fornt of the incident and waved play on. How can Webb now claim that he "didn't see it"?

  2. Yeah I guess its debatable Henry, I suppose you could look at it like he was trying to regain his balance, but to me it just doesn't look good. It the kind of thing the FA loves to 'stamp' out.

    Good point you raise there about Webb - he was right in front of it so how can he then go back on it in the report? Who knows.

    I think a lot of this has to do with certain narratives built up around players. We all know Mario comes with a chequered history and refs are obviously aware of that. Also, as soon as it happened the media were calling it a stamp, so immediately the pressure is on the FA to do something.

    Take Mario's yellow card on Assou-Ekotto. Would Steven Gerrard have been booked had he done that? Gerrard's ability to escape cards is something that United fans rant on about all the time.

    There's definitely narratives built up around players that make them less/more likely to get booked. Gerrard's is that he is the all action, rolls-royce captain that takes games by the scruff of the neck Roy of the rovers style and leads his team to victory.

    David Silva's is that he is small, agile player with incredible creativity and vision, not interested in fouling other players.

    Balotelli's is that he is an angst-ridden, sulking child that throws his toys out of the pram, he's Italian (and by right thus tries to con refs by diving) plus he carries a nasty streak that must be disciplined.