LONDON // Manchester United’s treble is over, Manchester City are a single game away from terminating a 35-year-old trophy drought, and Roberto Mancini can enjoy the vindication of victory over the local bullies. Yet once again Mario Balotelli is bathed in unwanted attention.
More interested in winding up defeated neighbours than the ebullient arm-around-shoulder Poznan dance with which teammates and fans celebrated, Balotelli marched down the wrong end of Wembley to pointedly brandish his shirt at United’s support.
Anderson reacted first, shoving Balotelli back towards his own half. Rio Ferdinand joined the substitute in pursuit the player, receiving a taunting wink for his troubles.
Mancini initially employed the Arsene Wenger defence of a player who has been booked 10 times and sent off twice in a pockmarked first season in English football.
“I didn’t see,” said Mancini. “And I want to wait because every time it is Balotelli’s fault. Every time. I will wait because I didn’t see what’s happened.”
The details of Balotelli’s behaviour explained to him, Mancini then deployed sarcasm. “We can put him in jail?” the manager retorted. “We can. Next week we can put him in jail for this.”
If Balotelli could face further punishment for his foolishness, Paul Scholes will be suspended for three games of United’s Premier League campaign following the 10th red card of his career.
The midfielder’s punishment was essentially incontestable. Stretching to reach a bouncing ball Pablo Zabaleta was always favourite to win, the midfielder drove the entire base of his right boot heavily down the Argentine’s left thigh. By the time Scholes had seen red, fluid of the same colour was trickling down Zabaleta’s limb.
“With Paul, we’ve seen it over his career,” said Sir Alex Ferguson. “He’s had unbelievable moments and is a great player, one of the greatest ever at this club. But he has these red mist moments and this was another one. He’s a bit unfortunate maybe as he went for the ball and it bounced up and he’s gone through and caught the boy on the thigh.
“It didn’t kill the game. I thought we played better after it. I thought we played very well after the sending off.”
While Ferguson blamed a slow-paced pitch for United elimination, Mancini’s tactics were intriguing.
Stereotypically defensive for the first 30 minutes, his team barely controlled the ball in United’s half. Zabaleta appeared under instructions not to cross the halfway line, and seven players were kept behind the ball even when in possession.
“It wasn’t intentional,” argued Mancini. “United played very well in the first 15 minutes. They had two chances to score after that I think we deserved to win this game.”
There was certainly a step change in City’s play. With David Silva doubling up with Adam Johnson on United’s left flank, City began to make inroads and created a brace of chances from inventive corner kicks. The second half was almost entirely theirs.
First, Yaya Toure profited from slack passing by Edwin van der Sar and Michael Carrick to score. Then, Scholes saw red, and City’s task became still easier.
“All the players were very emotional at half-time because we knew that we can play better than in the first half,” said Mancini. “And that we could win this game if we played better.
“It’s a turning point. It’s very important for the club because we beat United in an important game. But we should play another game. It’s important that we don’t forget this because I don’t want that now we beat United and OK it’s finished.”