Balotelli buys Mancini time but tips from brilliance to disaster
West Bromwich Albion 0 Manchester 2
Monday 08 November 2010
There were those who imagined this might be the evening that Roberto Mancini heard the slow beat of the executioner's song. Instead, on the final whistle, he turned to face a different melody; thousands of Manchester City fans chanting his name to the tune of "Volare". Mancini smiled and said that at Internazionale they had sometimes sung his name like that: "But after we had won three Scudetti."
This was not a victory that ends the debate about his suitability to marshal the disparate and brilliant talents of this club but it stilled the crisis triggered by their last trip to the Black Country, eight miles away and eight days ago.
At Wolves, they had looked a disjointed jumble of egos. At West Bromwich, we were reminded why they might be the most refreshing thing to have happened to the Premier League since Kevin Keegan wrote his first programme notes at a newly-promoted Newcastle in 1993, saying he was after Manchester United's title.
In many ways, Mario Balotelli is an archetypal Manchester City player. He has all the elements of genius in that he treads a constant narrow path between brilliance and disaster.
Yesterday, he scored twice and was sent off, although Mancini argued that he could not understand why his tussle with Youssouf Mulumbu in the 63rd minute should have been answered with a straight red card by referee Lee Probert and said he intended to appeal the decision. If the appeal is lodged by this afternoon, the Football Association would hear it tomorrow and if it concludes Probert had made a "clear and obvious error", he would be allowed to start Wednesday's Manchester derby.
To his team-mates at San Siro, Balotelli sometimes demonstrated a childlike mentality. But to those who consider that Mancini lacks the strength of personality to run City, he was able to bring the best out of Balotelli while his successor at Inter, Jose Mourinho, gave up trying.
Mancini admitted afterwards that he was becoming increasingly concerned with his protégé's temperament and was trying to bring on Adam Johnson for Balotelli when he tangled with Mulumbu, who was later sent off himself after scything through Carlos Tevez.
"His sending off was very strange; he received a direct red card, but for what?" said Mancini. "I was angry with him because I was explaining before the game that he should pay attention to the referee. My problem was that I wanted to change him because he needed to calm down."
The flip side of Balotelli is dazzling. This was the first fixture West Brom had lost at home this season and afterwards their manager, Roberto di Matteo, conceded that at times in the first half the forward combination of Balotelli, Tevez and David Silva had been almost unplayable.
They combined brilliantly for City's first goal, which saw Silva pass to Tevez, returning to lead the attack after his return to Argentina to deal with the break-up of his relationship that, contrary to some speculation, he claimed did not require a psychiatrist. Tevez's square ball across the face of Scott Carson's goal took out two defenders and Balotelli squeezed it home at the far post.
His second, half-a-dozen minutes later, was even better. Again Silva created the opportunity with a long upfield ball. Under pressure from Gabriel Tamas, Balotelli seemed to have lost control of the ball, before regaining it and driving his shot home.
"You could see his quality there," said Di Matteo. "He is a big boy, not easy to play against; you saw his sheer power and strength in the way he held off the defender. We played against a great team today. I said before kick-off that they are definitely title contenders. You just have to look at their bench."
The footballers sitting beside Mancini cost a combined £80m, which is one reason why the manager's margin of error is so thin, but the price tag interested Di Matteo less than the sheer array of options it gave his opposite number.
West Brom had recovered from a two-goal deficit against Manchester United at Old Trafford last month but only in the 18 minutes in which they held a one-man advantage did they look capable of repeating the feat in front of their own supporters. Chris Brunt drove a fabulous, curling shot square against Joe Hart's post while Silva cleared a ball off the line, directed towards his own net by Vincent Kompany.
Just as he had been in the 2-1 defeat at Molineux, Kompany was again involved in an on-field row with one of his own players, this time Yaya Touré, whose brother, Kolo, intervened, took off his gloves and threw them to the floor. Had City lost again, this would have been seized upon as another example of a club spiralling out of control.
As it was, Mancini was able to laugh it off, saying he was pleased his players were demonstrating so much passion while adding that City had played just as well in Thursday's 3-1 defeat in Poznan, which crystallised a crisis he seemed unable to understand, perhaps not having heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald's adage that the rich are different and are treated differently.
Man of the match Silva Match rating 7/10
Possession West Brom 46% Man City 54%
Shots on target West Brom 8 Man City 6
Referee L Probert (Bristol) Att 23,013
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