On the pitch, it was routine, mechanical almost. Off it, the soap opera had just wrapped another episode. "It is incredible," said Roberto Mancini as he walked into the press room at a stadium where he had won for a 19th successive time. "Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, we cannot go for two days without a problem."
This time the problem was Balotelli, a footballer the Manchester City manager has indulged and tried to understand like no other. Nevertheless, after he was presented with pictures of the young striker outside a strip joint in Liverpool in the wee small hours of Friday, that patience was beginning to stretch until the seams showed.
There would be yet another meeting, another fine of two weeks' wages, but Mancini insisted that, sooner or later, his relationship with Balotelli would rupture completely. "He cannot go on like this, 100 per cent," he said. "He needs to understand this because now he is young and when he is 25 or 26 it will be different. If you don't have a good private life, you can't play at the top level.
"Sometimes, I understand why [he lets me down] because he is 21. It is impossible he will ever be perfect but after 100 times he should understand what is happening around him."
What irked Mancini was the sheer stupidity of it all. Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero had been involved in international friendlies in Switzerland while Balotelli had been dropped by Italy for the very simple reason that their manager, Cesare Prandelli, could not bear to have him around.
Therefore, Balotelli must have known he would start against Bolton and that the tactics would be built around him. Therefore, parking his Bentley outside X in the City and taking a walk inside was an act of brainlessness. When talking about Balotelli's smoking habit earlier in the season, Mancini said that if he were his son "I would kick him up the arse". Now, he added with a grin, there would be "two kicks".
Perhaps City might try Newcastle's tactics when Andy Carroll's life appeared to be careering headlong into the brown waters of the Tyne and ask him to live with the club captain, although Vincent Kompany would have to be an insomniac to cope. Mancini's eyes rolled skywards when it was suggested he should offer Balotelli his own spare room.
Balotelli did score the goal that put a straightforward game out its misery but Gaël Clichy supplied some indirect criticism of the striker, pointing out that City might have scored four times in the opening exchanges. He did not mention Balotelli by name but most of the squandered chances were his. Had Joe Hart not brilliantly turned away Bolton's only shot on target, from Ryo Miyaichi, the scores would have been levelled at 1-1.
Yaya Touré did not feature in the midweek internationals either, but he played like someone who had had plenty of sleep. He is a different player from the man who cemented Barcelona's midfield and probably a better one.
"I played against Yaya when he was at Barcelona and I was with him at Arsenal," Clichy said. "He wasn't the main player then because they had Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and everything. He is a different player now and a big one for us." The thought that Touré was wasted as a holding midfielder at the Nou Camp seems ridiculous, given the trophies he won, but in Manchester he has been given licence to roam, although Clichy argued that he would not have succeeded so well without Gareth Barry.
"It is like Zinedine Zidane when he was at Real Madrid – he had Claude Makelele behind him," Clichy said. "Makelele made Madrid the team they were and never got any credit. Maybe it is for the media to put these guys in the spotlight because sometimes, without Gareth Barry, Manchester City are not the same team."
Man City: HART 7/10; ZABALETA 5; KOMPANY 6; LESCOTT 6; CLICHY 7; NASRI 6; BARRY 7; PIZARRO 6; JOHNSON 7; Y TOURE 8; BALOTELLI 6
Bolton: BOGDAN 8; RICKETTS 6; KNIGHT 5 ; REAM 6; WHEATER 6; STEINSSON 6; MIYAICHI 6; REO-COKER 6; PRATELY 5; M DAVIES 6; NGOG 5
Scorers: Manchester City Steinsson og 23, Balotelli 69. Substitutes: Manchester City K Touré 7 (Zabaleta, 20), Dzeko 6 (Pizarro, 62), Milner (Nasri, 85). Bolton Muamba (Pratley, 87).
Booked: Manchester City None. Bolton None.
Man of the match Y Touré. Match rating 5/10.
Possession: Manchester City 65% Bolton 35%.
Attempts on target: Manchester City 10 Bolton 5.
Referee M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
Attendance 47,219.Reuse content