Friday 20 April 2018

Mancini and Balotelli in tunnel row

Manchester City 1
Arsenal 1

Mark Ogden

Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli were involved in a tunnel confrontation after Laurent Koscielny had secured a point with a late equaliser for Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium yesterday.

Balotelli, forced to watch last week's Champions League defeat against Real Madrid from the stands at Santiago Bernabeu after being omitted from Mancini's match-day squad, was involved for just five minutes against Arsenal, introduced as an 85th-minute replacement for Sergio Aguero.

And the Italian forward's frustration at his limited involvement appeared to come to the surface as he walked off the pitch at the end of the game, the 22-year-old exchanging words with Mancini before being shoved down the tunnel by the City manager.

When asked to explain the incident after the game, Mancini proved evasive, admitting he had "possibly" pushed Balotelli after initially claiming he had no recollection of the clash.

"I don't know what happened after the game," Mancini said. "I don't know if he's asked me something, but it's not important this. Mario probably thinks it was important. I don't know. Tomorrow, I will ask him next time I see him."

Mancini had defended Balotelli in the build-up, claiming that his "patience is endless" with the controversial former Inter Milan striker.

And the City manager had dismissed claims that Balotelli had been dropped at the Bernabeu following an unauthorised night out after the Premier League trip to Stoke on the previous Saturday.

Balotelli did not break a club curfew and had not been drinking.

With Mancini expected to make wholesale changes to his line-up for tomorrow's League Cup third-round tie against Aston Villa, Balotelli -- who has managed just 175 minutes of first-team action this season -- could find himself starting alongside a host of fringe players.

While Mancini's frustration with Balotelli was evident through the pair's post-match contretemps, the manager was equally unhappy with the defensive contribution of his team following Arsenal's late equaliser.

City, who have won just twice in six games, have not kept a clean sheet this season, and Mancini admits their defensive frailties, rather than losing touch with the league's early pace-setters, is his key concern.


"I am not concerned at being four points behind the leaders," Mancini said. "I feel very sorry for players because it was difficult after Real Madrid, but we conceded a goal like this (from a corner) and we need to improve and we need to work.

"I don't know why it is happening. In the last four games, we have conceded from three set-pieces.

"We probably dropped two points against Stoke last week also, but we need to work because we want to improve. I am frustrated, but the players are also and that is important."

Mancini added: "In the first half, Arsenal had another man in the middle, so that's why I changed Scott Sinclair with Jack Rodwell and we did better, but then we went too deep.

"We didn't play very well, but in this game we needed to score. We need to improve this and when we get a chance, take it."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger saw his team extend their unbeaten start to the season thanks to Koscielny's equaliser.

But for some wayward finishing by Ivorian forward Gervinho, Arsenal could have become the first time to take all three points from the Etihad since Everton in December 2010, but Wenger was satisfied with the draw.

"It's a point we deserved and I'm pleased with the quality of our performance and spirit," the Frenchman said.

"I also think of Gervinho's chance at the edge of the box, where he missed the target, but I hope the game reinforces our belief and confidence and reassures us of our potential in the league.

"It's true we missed chances today, but when you have basic quality, you can improve on the rest. Thomas Vermaelen had flu yesterday and we left him at home, but I believe Koscielny had a great game and stepped in very well.

"We have three great centre-halves, it is a very difficult choice for me, and whoever is left out will feel it is not right. Sometimes it will be a choice of which strikers they are up against."

Arsenal played by far the better football and, on this evidence, spent their money more wisely during the summer.

Santi Cazorla, the £12.7m Spaniard, looked a very great deal better value than City's Javi Garcia (whose role in the starting XI suggests he has already pushed Gareth Barry down the pecking order) or Sinclair, who looked out of his depth before he was withdrawn at the break.

Barry has grounds for feeling extremely unfortunate if yesterday is anything to go by and you imagine that the man he will be sharing his sorrows with might be James Milner.

The England international hasn't even featured on the bench in the past three games -- another player Roy Hodgson his national manager will have some trouble scouting.

In their excellent first-half, Arsenal's football -- clean, neat, incisive -- was engineered completely by Aaron Ramsey, in a way which challenged Wenger's decision not to have started with him previously this season.

That is not say that the old characterisation of Arsenal -- can't finish, can't defend -- didn't come back to haunt them and their manager at times.

Wenger admitted that Gervinho -- lucky to have been granted a full 90 minutes of football -- should have finished the gilt-edged chance which Ramsey provided him with, when he carved a ball inside Gael Clichy to send him through.

But the Ivorian's heavy first touch on that occasion was compounded by a further three misses. That was why the goal which took City ahead, five minutes before the interval, was so desperate.

Kieron Gibbs, whose final pass from wide had also hindered Arsenal's attempts to press ahead, conceded a needless corner, at which Koscielny and 'keeper Vito Mannone were at fault -- Koscielny allowing Joleon Lescott to power above him and head home.

Mancini tinkered with and thundered at his players, flipping Sinclair and David Silva, and City did finally find some life.

Gibbs put in a vital challenge after Silva's pass allowed Aguero to get beyond Koscielny to shoot.

Then the Argentinian fired wide with the goal gaping after Koscielny could only clear straight at him, following one of Yaya Toure's drives through the heart of midfield as the game drifted towards its last 10 minutes.

Arsenal did enough to deserve their point, though.

Joe Hart required all his athleticism to claw away the effort Cazorla delivered after climbing into the 81st-minute ball Gibbs put into his path and there was some symmetry to the way that Koscielny atoned, at Lescott's expense, for his late first-half error.

He seized upon a very poor headed clearance from Cazorla's corner to thunder the equaliser high to Hart's left. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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