Mario Balotelli beginning to repay Roberto Mancini’s faith

Mario Balotelli’s Manchester City career thus far has veered from the sublime to the ridiculous. On one side you have the hat-trick against Aston Villa and Man of the Match award and winners’ medal from last season’s FA Cup Final, on the other you have red cards against West Brom and Dynamo Kiev plus accusations of showboating from his own manager, Roberto Mancini. It would appear Balotelli is currently in the midst of a sustained sublime period and his timing is exemplary.

As the furore over Carlos Tevez refusing to play in Munich continues to bubble, Balotelli has provided a gentle reminder of why Mancini paid so much money to be reacquainted with the controversial Italian prodigy. Owen Hargreaves stole the headlines as Manchester City defeated Birmingham City in the Carling Cup last month but Balotelli made his first start of the season, playing the full 90 minutes and capping his performance with a goal.

As the focal point of the attack, supported from deep by Tevez, ‘Super Mario’ staked his claim for more first team football and it was his introduction after an hour in the subsequent game against Everton that proved decisive. Balotelli opened the scoring within eight minutes as City recorded a 2-0 win, earning a starting place in the next league fixture, away at Blackburn. He responded with another impressive performance, hitting the post ahead of Adam Johnson’s opener and adding a second, converting Samir Nasri’s cross.

Competition amongst Manchester City’s strikers is particularly fierce, with Sergio Aguero’s seamless introduction complimented by an invigorated Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez’s undoubted, if reluctant, talents. Rather than sulk when not selected, Balotelli has knuckled down and his application in training has been rewarded by more first team football, he has made the most of his opportunities, impressing first team coach David Platt in the process.

In the last six or seven weeks, we have seen a smile on his face in training” explained Platt. “His concentration levels are up. He comes in and does his work and there are no distractions off the pitch. He has bided his time, too. There were three or four games when he didn’t get on. Then he came on last week, got his goal and has gone on from there. His performance at Blackburn was very, very good.

Manchester City have accrued 25 points out of a possible 27 from their first nine Premier League fixtures, during what has proved to be, in many respects, a tumultuous period for the club. With Tevez suspended and Dzeko criticised for his reaction to being substituted during the 2-0 defeat in Munich, Balotelli has emerged from the last few weeks with his reputation enhanced almost by default.

In the aftermath of his goal against Everton, he celebrated the strike by embracing Mancini on the touchline, a public show of support and appreciation for his mentor. With Balotelli on his best behaviour and an expensively assembled squad, heaving with talent and seemingly unified by recent events, Manchester City appear on course for a very prosperous season.

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