Mario Balotelli and 5 Players with Everything to Prove in 2013
2012 has been a year of mixed news as always for Manchester City's Mario Balotelli.
From the highs of winning the Premier League on the last day of the season to the lows of being publicly criticised by his manager, Balotelli continues to impress and disappoint with alarming regularity.
Latest rumours surround him with a potential move to AC Milan, according to goal.com, but for now he certainly remains one of City's options to try to help retain the league title.
Boss Roberto Mancini says he'll give his striker another chance if he earns it, via the BBC website:
Like the other players, if he deserves another chance I'll give him another chance. But Mario now needs to deserve this.
Mad Mario has it all to do next year then to prove he still has a successful future in front of him, at his current club at least.
Here are five players who have everything to prove in 2013, starting with Balotelli himself.
It hasn't been the best few weeks for Balotelli to end the year with after his own club held disciplinary proceedings against him for missing too many matches last season through suspension.
After initially taking the club to tribunal over the matter, the striker eventually dropped his actions and accepted the club punishment, though he has not been a regular in the team since the beginning of December and has played 90 minutes just once in the Premier League this season.
Balotelli has scored only one goal in 13 games in the league and has three in 18 in all competitions this season.
Earlier in 2012 Mancini suggested that Balotelli would not play again for City after being sent off against Arsenal, via the Guardian:
Mario should have been sent off after 20 minutes. I've finished my words for him. I've finished. I love him as a guy, as a player. I know him. He's not a bad guy and is a fantastic player. But, at this moment, I'm very sorry for him because he continues to lose his talent, his quality. I hope, for him, he can understand that he's in a bad way for his future. And he can change his behaviour in the future. But I'm finished. We have six games left and he will not play.
As it was Balotelli played on the final day and set up Sergio Aguero's title-deciding winning goal—but the Italian striker has everything to prove going into 2013.
Liverpool's £20 million winger Stewart Downing has been in and out of the team this season under new manager Brendan Rodgers, having failed to show his best Aston Villa form for the Reds, but a recent resurgence hints at a possibility of living up to expectations.
On the other hand, with Liverpool needing to invest in new signings, has Downing left it too late to salvage his Reds career?
Downing recently claimed his first league assist and goal for the club in almost 18 months at Anfield after failing to provide either in the whole of last season, though he does have five goals in all competitions.
Having featured on the right and left of the attack this season as well as at left-back, Downing has yet to string a run of top performances together in the Red of Liverpool; with Daniel Sturridge and Tom Ince supposedly soon to arrive, competition will be more fierce after the turn of the year.
However he has been one of the team's best players in the last couple of fixtures—early 2013 might be the last chance he gets to make a case for himself to stay in the first XI over a prolonged spell.
Should he fail to achieve that consistency and quality between January and May, the rest of the year will very likely be spent at another club, consigning Downing to the long list of "nearly men" to have played for a bigger side and failed.
Aaron Ramsey suffered a very bad injury in early 2010, and two years later he appears to have not quite regained his very best form or fulfilled the potential that was expected of him.
Having returned to fitness later in the year he had two separate loan spells in 2010-11 to aid that return to fitness before rejoining the Arsenal first team squad.
Last season he was once more an integral part of the Gunners' team that ended the season third. He played 34 matches in the league, but in only half of those did he play the full 90 minutes.
Indeed in 2012 he only started and finished the match on four occasions in the remainder of Arsenal's league campaign.
This season has seen Ramsey struggle to hold down a regular starting spot; he has started only eight times in the league and completed the full 90 minutes only four times.
Of Arsenal's past eight league games he has been named in the starting XI only twice—and on top of all that, he has been unable to gain a regular place in his preferred central midfield role.
Plenty of times manager Arsene Wenger has opted to use him from the right flank, a position he is unaccustomed to and has struggled to have a consistent impact in.
Just two assists and no goals at all in the league make this one a difficult campaign so far for Ramsey; he will hope to turn around his form and consistency in the new year and might well need to improve considerably to ensure 2013 is not his last year at Arsenal.
Manchester United central midfielder Darren Fletcher was a key component of Alex Ferguson's team until illness meant he missed the entire first half of 2012.
Fletcher suffers from ulcerative colitis, a serious inflammatory bowel condition which meant he sat out the second half of last season to try to recover.
As he continues in his recovery, the Scottish midfielder has played three times in the Premier League this season and a further seven times in European and domestic cup action. Given the energetic nature of his usual game, he is understandably being eased back into action with his team and will doubtless take quite a spell longer to attain full fitness.
He has seemingly overcome the illness and now is simply building himself back into regular football, but there will be close scrutiny on his performances—both technical and physical—during the coming year from club and media to see whether he reaches the levels he previously attained.
Fletcher's reasons to need to prove himself during 2013 are as far removed from those of Mario Balotelli as could be, but he will need to do so nonetheless if he wants to play a significant part in United's future.
Finally we come to Emmanuel Adebayor, a player with a big reputation and possibly even bigger salary who has yet to establish himself in his new team after a summer move.
Adebayor moved from Manchester City to Spurs for around £5.5 million but has been largely unable to make himself a regular first choice at the North London side thanks to Jermain Defoe's goals and his own poor form.
Andre Villas-Boas has tried on a few occasions to play two centre-forwards to accommodate both of his front men, but more often than not it has been a single striker with support from behind; as a result Adebayor has completed the full 90 minutes just twice in the league and failed to score each time.
His only league goal this season came against Arsenal—and he was sent off only minutes later.
One goal in 11 matches is hardly the stuff that Spurs fans would have hoped for from the Togolese striker, and they will expect far better returns after the new year.
2013 needs to see a big improvement from Adebayor or else he runs the risk of becoming a serial nomad footballer, moving club to club on loan deals and being unable to fit in anywhere on a permanent basis—or worse, a mere squad player at Spurs, playing second fiddle to Defoe and likely another forward who they bring in to provide better competition.
Statistical and financial data from TransferMarkt.co.uk