A few eyebrows would have been raised yesterday when the news broke that Roberto Mancini had decided to start Mario Balotelli against Manchester United. He was clearly hoping or gambling that Balotelli would produce one of his better displays but oh, how he was wrong.
The Italian’s performance was personified by a poor attempted back heel in the second half which prompted Mancini to sub him off immediately for Carlos Tevez. Considering the way he played against United at Old Trafford last season, it was remarkable just how uninterested he looked through the game.
Balotelli has to realise that in bigger games such as this, he has to put in the extra yards off the ball and show a little more enthusiasm to his teammates. When he, or the City attack, lost possession yesterday, he was not making any painful runs to try and close down the United midfield and get the ball back for his team.
“He has everything to play well but he can't continue to play like today - When you have a player of this quality you can't understand that he could continue to throw this out of the window. This is incredible,” said Mancini after the game.
It’s also very clear that the manager wants him to try and keep things simple. This means not trying any fancy touches in the middle of the pitch when your team are chasing the game. It would have reminded many of the time Balotelli tried to back heel a shot into goal during a friendly which prompted Mancini to take him off straight away.
Credit to United because they contained him very well early on, they seemed to have a tactic they were going to use and they stuck to it. As soon as Balotelli realised he was not going to have things all his own way, he let his head drop and he seems the sort of player who will be deliberate about being lethargic around the pitch or sulking because he’s not dominating a match.
He needs to show a little more urgency in this respect, he needs to change up his game if he’s gone in with a game plan and the opposition have a way to deal with it. This sort of versatility in attack will keep him in the team when he’s not scoring goals and it’s something he needs to do considering the quality of strikers the club have at their disposal.
This sounds a little strange, especially for Balotelli, but he needs to make more of his physical advantage over defenders which means holding the ball up to bring others into play, backing in and generally being a bully at all set pieces.
image: © praguegallagher