City’s title hopes in tatters

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iol spt apr9 Mancini-frustrated REUTERS If this was the end of Manchester Citys title challenge, it did not end well for Roberto Mancini.

If this was the end of Manchester City’s title challenge, it did not end well for Roberto Mancini.

It was amid chaos and controversy, anger, misery and indiscipline. From the sight of Manchester City’s manager screaming with fury at David Pizarro for the mistake that led to Mikel Arteta’s decisive goal to his assistant David Platt burying his head in his hands, knowing full well that a dream had probably died.

From Joe Hart responding to Arteta’s unstoppable 25-yard shot by booting a post to a stony-faced Khaldoon Al Mubarak watching from the directors’ box, City’s chairman no doubt asking himself who pays now; who pays when £800million has not yet bought the championship they so crave.

The answer arrived faster than Khaldoon might have expected, in the form of a second yellow card for the mindless, moronic Mario Balotelli. If Arteta’s 87th-minute goal left Mancini looking vulnerable, what followed might have finished him.

Managers often live and die by the signings they make and Balotelli could yet amount to the most serious charge against Mancini when the City hierarchy conduct their review into this campaign.

By the time he appeared for his post-match press conference, even Mancini agreed with Jose Mourinho’s assertion that the most petulant of prima donnas is ‘unmanageable’.

Yesterday he crowned an already extraordinary week with a truly astonishing display.

It was not enough that he had already dominated the headlines, first as the result of a car crash and then for an alleged dalliance with a certain publicity-seeking call girl. No, Balotelli decided to trade the red-light district for his third red card of the season and so bring yet more shame on the club he represents.

If the T-shirt he was wearing under his City shirt really did say ‘You Only Live Once’, it must have read like a bad joke to Mancini.

The young Italian behaved like a thug, and should have been sent off long before he received a second yellow card for the second of two rash challenges on Bacary Sagna.

Alex Song was the best player on the pitch yesterday, dominating the midfield, but he was fortunate to finish the game given the challenge Balotelli caught him with in the first half; a studs-up kick to the shin that could have broken the Arsenal man’s leg. Balotelli escaped punishment because there were two players between Martin Atkinson and the incident. But the tackles on Sagna and the potential for retrospective action by the FA leave the £25million striker staring at a suspension that could rule him out for the rest of the season.

If Mancini deserves any blame for that, it was the baffling decision to leave him on the field for as long as he did when, sitting on the bench, was Carlos Tevez. Mancini might not take any pleasure seeing the rebellious Tevez back in his squad but this was a game crying out for his inclusion and not one to be leaving him out until the 83rd minute.

It seems ludicrous to accuse Mancini of a lack of ambition. Having seen Manchester United extend their lead to eight points with victory over QPR, he knew his side needed to win. But his tactics were baffling. A single, isolated striker in the form of Sergio Aguero, with Balotelli deployed on the right wing in a five man midfield already missing an injured David Silva.

Surely, given the need for three points, Mancini needed to be more aggressive. Surely he could afford to play with two strikers through the middle, with Tevez involved long before he replaced the exhausted Aguero.

As Arsenal dominated, striking the woodwork three times prior to Arteta’s goal, Mancini sat there seemingly content with a draw. He even sent on Aleksandar Kolarov before Tevez.

In fairness to Mancini, his plans were disrupted by the loss of Yaya Toure to injury — the result of a poor challenge by Song — after 17 minutes. But by then Arsenal might have had a penalty when Vincent Kompany sent Robin van Persie crashing to the ground and they would have scored had Thomas Vermaelen not diverted a goalbound header from Van Persie against the City crossbar. One has to wonder if Balotelli’s shocking foul on Song was payback for Toure, but whatever the motivation City should have been down to 10 men after little more than 20 minutes.

Arsenal’s failure to capitalise on their dominance could have proved costly in their pursuit of a Champions League place, particularly when Aguero forced Wojciech Szczesny to make a fine save. But Arsene Wenger’s side emerged from a difficult spell at the start of the second half to regain control, with Van Persie meeting a super ball forward from Song with a header that bounced off a post. The two combined again for a goal that was rightly disallowed — Van Persie was offside — while Vermaelen should have scored after Hart pushed a shot from Theo Walcott against a post. But when Pizarro lost possession cheaply to Arteta in the 87th minute, the Spaniard responded with a stunning right- foot strike that City’s England goalkeeper was unable to reach.

Hart expressed his frustration after launching the ball towards the centre circle and did so again when Balotelli was dismissed, throwing his water bottle back into his goal.

After just one win in five Barclays Premier League games, it is not just a lead that has been surrendered to United but what looks like the title.

Someone is sure to pay, and it will not be the owners. – Daily Mail


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