Whether by gesticulating wildly at his teammates errant passes which failed to find him, conducting a match-long row with the travelling Aston Villa fans, or opening the scoring with a goal of instinctive brilliance, Mario Balotelli demonstrated on Saturday that he is perfectly poised to assume Carlos Tevez’s mantel as ‘troubled genius’ within the Manchester City team. The Italian’s opening goal opened the floodgates as the Etihad Stadium was treated to a procession performance, aided by the profligate defending of their opponents. To further add to City’s delight, they end the weekend as Premier League leaders following Manchester United’s draw at Liverpool.
Ever a target of controversy, Balotelli spent most of the match engaged in a running battle with the travelling Villa fans – something the former Inter forward has long since had to get used to since arriving on these shores. However, rather than allow his combustible nature to overcome him in the circumstances, the disagreements seemed to spur him to greater deeds. Whereas once the forward would have succumbed to petulance, anger this time translated into genius.
His goal, City’s opener, melded instinct with imagination. As an Adam Johnson corner arced its way towards the six-yard area, the ball seemed to have all the properties of a ticking time-bomb. Defenders and attackers alike fumbled and bumbled without authority before it fell into Balotelli’s path. His back to goal, he quickly hooked a shot over his shoulder to leave former City goalkeeper Shay Given helpless. Any Villa fans pious enough to react indignantly towards Balotelli’s provocative celebrations, it must be said, ought not to be so precious. Balotelli will never be the type to turn the other cheek.
Even though the goal only came in the 28th minute, from that moment on there was only going to be one conclusion – something which the comedic Villa defence seemed intent on contributing to.
Capitalising on the second running theme of the match – defensive incompetence – Johnson scored City’s second having latched onto what initially seemed an over-hit Nigel de Jong pass. Quite what Stephen Warnock was attempting having initially got himself into a dreadful defensive position to deal with the pass is anybody’s guess. Adding to the shambolic aura, the wing-man scuffed his finish somewhat, yet still put enough power on it to direct it beyond Given.
The third goal epitomised the indecision which afflicted Alex McLeish’s team throughout the game. Vincent Kompany’s near post header is the goal which gives Sunday League managers nightmares. Heaven only knows the fury the former Birmingham boss must have felt. The attack leading up to the corner should really have been dealt with too. Villa had more than enough defenders on duty, yet chances to clear were continually spurned. Justifiably, they were punished.
With the match winding to a close, Warnock’s subsequent consolation was rendered a mere afterthought by a goal of utter magnificence. James Milner’s cross-field pass to Johnson was executed splendidly. Johnson’s trademark jinking worked already ragged Villa defence out of place, before the ball was laid back into Milner’s path to be beautifully dispatched first-time. It was a goal befitting Premier League leaders.
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