City in comfort zone without Balotelli as Milan consider deal
Manchester City 2 Fulham 0
Mario Balotelli's prospects of a return to Italy with AC Milan before next week's transfer window remain in the balance, with Manchester City refusing to sanction a cut-price deal in order to cut their ties with the controversial forward.
Balotelli, an unused substitute as David Silva's two goals secured a comfortable victory against Fulham, has been confirmed as a Milan target by the club's chief executive Adriano Galliani, despite recent comments by owner Silvio Berlusconi describing the 22-year-old as a "rotten apple."
City and Milan remain a sizeable distance apart on their valuation of the player, a £22m buy from Inter Milan in July 2010, with Galliani insisting over the weekend that Milan will not meet City's £30m asking price.
Although the public stance of manager Roberto Mancini is that Balotelli is not for sale and that he will be given the chance to redeem himself, the reality is that City are prepared to sell the troublesome striker this month, but only if they receive an offer which at least covers their own outlay on the player.
Senior figures at Milan are due to discuss their next move on Balotelli today, with the San Siro future of Robinho, who is wanted by Brazilian sides Santos and Flamengo, key to their strategy on Balotelli ahead of the January 31 transfer deadline.
With Balotelli having made just two substitute appearances totalling 20 minutes in City's last eight games, Mancini's team have clearly learned how to live without him, a fact underlined by their routine win against Fulham.
Silva's opening goal, when he pounced on the loose ball following Mark Schwarzer's save from Edin Dzeko, came just 90 seconds after kick-off and was akin to a pin being inserted into Fulham's balloon.
"We analysed City and we saw that they had a problem against Ajax and Borussia Dortmund if you put their midfield under pressure," said Fulham manager Martin Jol. "This is what we tried to do, but if you concede a goal in the second minute then you can probably put all your plans aside."
Subconsciously, City seemed aware that the game was safe, even though it had only just begun and it led to a flat encounter, with neither side impressing.
Chances were few and far between and it was not until the 69th minute, when Silva scored his second following Carlos Tevez's flick, that the action brought the crowd to life.
Not that entertainment matters at this stage of a campaign, especially when there is a gap to be bridged at the top of the table. (© Daily Telegraph, London)