Mario Balotelli has a habit of doing the most absurd things at precisely the most brilliant time. If he’d planned to get into a training ground scrap with his own manager, picking this week was a wonderful way to provide Roberto Mancini with the possibility to react instantly, with the transfer window offering the possibility for a quick-fire sale.
But that’s not the only fantastic thing about Balotelli’s timing. The other concerns matters on the pitch: Sergio Aguero, who has established himself as Manchester City’s most valuable centre-forward, is out for a fortnight with a hamstring injury. Samir Nasri, meanwhile, is suspended for the next two matches, and although Balotelli is generally considered a striker, he’s started as a wide player more frequently than a forward this season. City’s fixture this weekend is a comfortable-looking home FA Cup tie against Watford, allowing Mancini to rest his regulars after gruelling Christmas period, and give a run-out to some reserves. Balotelli, who hasn’t played a minute since the 3-2 defeat to Manchester United on December 9, currently qualifies as a back-up.
For all Balotelli’s off-pitch dramas and his on-pitch flashes of genius, it’s never been immediately obvious what he offers to City on a regular basis, at least on a tactical level. His attributes are blatant: tremendous pace in behind, an ability to run with the ball, impressive strength and, at times, wonderfully cool finishing ability. Yet how that translates into a well-rounded player perfect for a particular place in City’s side is unclear. Playing as an ‘on the shoulder’ striker probably suits him best, and his key contributions have generally come from that position: his opener in the 6-1 against Manchester United, for example, the ‘Why always me?’ moment.
Yet his chances of playing that role have been, in a slightly convoluted fashion, compromised by Carlos Tevez’s return. Although Tevez has generally been fielded as the deeper of Mancini’s two centre-forwards, it has pushed Sergio Aguero forward. Aguero has played the two separate forward roles a roughly equal number of times since his arrival in English football, but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that he’s more effective high up the pitch.
There’s more to his game than simply goalscoring, but his incredible acceleration and ability to create space for a shot when surrounded by opponents makes him one of the most dangerous finishers in the league.
On paper, Balotelli might be more suited to a wide position. David Silva starts in one of the wide roles and inevitably drifts inside into the centre, and Nasri’s tendency to do something similar has been problematic on occasion, making City’s play too congested and allowing the opposition to defend narrow.
Balotelli offers directness and a goalscoring threat from wide, but in addition to his lack of defensive work, he simply never appears determined or motivated when fielded there. He’s a powerful runner with the ball, but his ability to beat a man is less assured.
It’s unlikely yesterday’s incident will have a serious impact upon Mancini’s desire to keep him at the club: this is a manager who once told a press conference that he’d said to Balotelli: “If you played with me 10 years ago, I give to you every day maybe one punch in your head!”
Mancini will continue to give him opportunities through rotation. Aguero’s injury only makes that concept seem more appealing. But it’s difficult to see how, why or when Balotelli will become a key part of City’s starting XI, and therefore it will become increasingly difficult for Mancini to justify retaining such an undisciplined player, regardless of his talent.
This post courtesy of Pick Our Team is by Michael Cox. PickOurTeam is a new type of football community giving fans an opportunity to have a meaningful say on the formation and selection of their team. PickOurTeam is the voice of the fans – collecting views on who should play where and ratings on how the players, manager, and referee perform each week. Every match the findings are compiled and presented back to the fans. The article was originally posted here.