Manchester City vs. Manchester United: Starting Mario Balotelli a Risky Move

Josh Martin@@JoshMartinNBANBA Lead WriterApril 27, 2012

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini gives instructions to Mario Balotelli during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on October 23, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

As someone who's more or less a neutral observer with regard to Monday's Manchester derby, I'm thrilled that Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini is strongly considering featuring Mario Balotelli in the attack against Manchester United.

There may not be another football player in the world who combines talent and antics to such entertaining effect, both on and off the pitch, as the irritable Italian.

From a competitive perspective, though, Mancini would be foolish to entrust the bombastic Balotelli with so much responsibility for a positive result at the Etihad Stadium and the shot at the English Premier League title.

The "noisy neighbors" will welcome the Red Devils to their grounds with just three points separating the two in the domestic table.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:  Referee Martin Atkinson shows Mario Balotelli of Man City a red card  during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on April 8, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Reg
Michael Regan/Getty Images

A massive shift from earlier this month, when United owned an eight-point lead over City after the Sky Blues dropped a 1-0 decision to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. It was during that game that "Mad Mario" ran into his latest spot of trouble, picking up a pair of yellow cards while going in for reckless tackle after reckless tackle on the opposition.

Of course, that only came after Mikel Arteta's cracker in the 87th minute, though Balotelli's bad attitude before then certainly didn't help matters.

At the time, Mario's mischief appeared to cost City a shot at their first domestic league title in more than four decades. For that, Mancini proclaimed that Balotelli would be banished from playing for him for the rest of the season, if not longer.

Meanwhile, City have begun to play some of their best football of the season since Balotelli's been away on a mandatory three-match ban for his eventual red card. Granted, beating West Brom, Norwich City and Wolves in consecutive weeks is hardly reason to celebrate, though those results, combined with a rough stretch by Man U, have thrust City back into the silverware discussion.

So, too, has the reintegration of Carlos Tevez, who's racked up four goals and two assists in Balotelli's stead.

Not bad for a guy who spent much of the season engaging in leisure sports other than football.

There's a clear chemistry up front between Tevez and Sergio Aguero, his Argentine countryman; a chemistry that Mancini would be wise to ride for as long as he possibly can.

Which is to say, for the final three fixtures remaining on the schedule.

Particularly for Monday's match, given that Tevez has had tremendous success (i.e. four goals and two assists in seven career games) against United, his old club.

If you're Mancini, why not ride Tevez to victory now? Why not let the good times roll if they are, in fact, rolling?

Because you have a morbid fascination with Mario? Because of some misplaced sense of loyalty and gratitude toward a 21-year-old hothead who's karmic balance between harm and good is far too precarious for the pressure of a title race?

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:  Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli of Man City stand dejected after Mikel Arteta of Arsenal scored a goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on April 8, 2012 in Londo
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Sure, I'd love to see Balotelli back at his zany best—attempting ill-advised back heels, celebrating stoically, transmitting messages with his undergarments and, perhaps, setting buildings ablaze with firecrackers.

But, certainly, Mancini wouldn't...would he? With first place in the Premiership at stake?

Perhaps the real lunatic, then, isn't the kid with the fro-hawk, but rather the man with the Sky Blue scarf.



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