Mario Balotelli didn't deliver one of his classically feckless performances for Manchester City in the derby, but after 51 minutes and one unsuccessful flick Roberto Mancini had had enough. The Italian, appalled, rolled his eyes before beckoning Carlos Tévez to get ready to replace number 45.
Mancini had decided to persist with Balotelli for the restart but it was always a stay of execution. Playing United is a stimulant for Tévez and his arrival changed the complexion of the game as City's play was injected with alacrity. Blues appear to have forgiven the Argentine for his deplorable behaviour last season and tellingly, their exasperation at Balotelli on Sunday was audible.
Balotelli has been indulged time and again but Mancini's patience is almost worn. City's starting XI was expected - a number of Sunday papers claimed Balotelli would be the wildcard selection - and there was more than enough method in Mancini's madness. Balotelli was superb in the 2011 FA Cup semi-final against United and scored twice against them in the 6-1 demolition at Old Trafford last season. However the gamble, exacerbated by a clinical Wayne Rooney giving United a 2-0 half-time advantage, did not pay off.
Again Mancini was culpable for his selection error but Balotelli's tiresome nature will always dwarf his manager's mistakes. His withdrawal prompted the usual glare as he peeled off his gloves while Massimo Battara, City's goalkeeping coach, chuckled with a shrug.
Despite City rallying the 3-2 defeat brought Balotelli back to the fore and Mancini was candid and critical of his underperformers. Samir Nasri's cowardice for Robin van Persie's winner was described as a "two-and-a-half wall" before Balotelli found himself in his coach's crosshair.
"I love Mario but it is important for him to start to thinking about his job. He can't continue to play like today," Mancini admitted in that strained tone usually reserved for the 22-year-old.
"He has everything to play well but he can't continue to play like today. We wanted more from him.
"When you have a player that has Mario's quality, you cannot understand why he continues to throw it out of the window. It is incredible. I have seen players in my life with fantastic quality. But in the end, they did nothing. I don't want Mario to finish like these players. It would be bad for him."
Balotelli has scored a paltry three goals all season - a third of the tally he had accumulated by this stage last year - with just one strike coming in the Premier League, but he is not solely culpable for City's relative impotence. They have scored 10 goals less than United in the league with Tévez having bagged eight while Agüero and Edin Džeko are on seven apiece. Mancini could not hide his irritation at City failing in their bid to tempt Van Persie to Eastlands, but that is a futile complaint when the Dutchman was always intent on joining United instead.
Džeko may eventually seek a move to a team who will cater for his aerial prowess rather than become synonymous for his super sub skill, but Balotelli is an expendable luxury. He may have assisted Agüero's title winner, but through suspension and reputation he had not played in the five successive victories which made their championship win possible.
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