One of Roberto Mancini’s finest signings could yet cost Manchester City a second consecutive Premier League title – and no, he’s not called Balotelli.
As ‘Super’, ‘Mad’ or just plain maverick Mario, heads back to his boyhood heroes AC Milan, it’s a man who hails from the opposite side of the Milanese divide who held Mancini’s men at bay.
Recalled by the Brazilian national squad for next month’s friendly against England at Wembley, Julio Cesar was installed as Inter Milan’ s goalkeeper by the now City boss, back in 2005.
The 33 year old produced a wonder show, pulling off a string of saves as City took control at QPR but failed to score the all-important winning goal.
With 70% possession, 13 attempts on goal and 10 corners, City dominated play, but it would be churlish to say Rangers didn’t deserve a point – if only for their valiant second half fight back and Cesar’s heroics.
Mancini had snapped Cesar up for a bargain £2m from Verona when managing Inter Milan. The keeper went on to make 227 appearances before chancing his arm in the Premier League this summer.
Sadly both his left and right arms were able to keep the ball out of the QPR net as City squandered the opportunity to take three vital points, having to settle for just the one.
City could and should have scored on numerous occasions. Lescott hooked a shot over the bar as early as the eighth minute from a corner in a spirited attempt.
FA Cup hero Zabaleta powered a diving header against the bar in the 19th minute. Aguero broke down the left, played the ball inside to Silva who danced past ex-City man, Nedum Onouha and flighted a gorgeous chip to the Argentine skipper.
He crashed the ball onto Cesar’s bar and the danger was gone. Garcia was next up. Winning possession in the centre of the park, he sallied forth before unleashing a rasping 45 yard shot that whisked past Cesar’s post.
Just before half time the ever industrious Tevez received a pass on the edge of the Rangers’ box. With a PL-leading 13 assists to his name this season, he squared a perfect pass to Barry whose sweet left foot strike from 18 yards was scrambled away by Cesar.
As City laid siege to QPR in the host’s half they were left slightly exposed at the back. Loic Remy eluded Garcia’s challenge to smash a shot, only to see it deflected off the Boss model’s heel for a corner.
Taarabt was a menace to City on numerous occasions, the most notable seeing the young Moroccan collect the ball in his own half, run 50 yards only to see his shot smothered and ricochet away following a superb sprawling save by Hart.
The reshaped City defence, shorn of Kompany and Nastasic looked solid enough a department where City are blessed with strength in depth. Titles and championships are usually won on the back of a mean and well drilled back line. This was City’ fifth clean sheet of 2013 so the foundations are laid for now and the foreseeable future.
The downside is City are now profligate in attack and nowhere near as clinical in the finishing stakes as last season.
Silva must have thought he’d bagged his fourth goal of the season when, following excellent approach work by Dzeko, the Spaniard swept his shot towards the net, only to be thwarted by that man Cesar.
The two teams traded fruitless penalty claims, QPR saying Lescott felled Remy and City voicing strong suspicions that Onouha had brought down sub Scott Sinclair. In truth neither looked like valid spot kicks.
Rapidly improving Garcia was on hand to make the tackle of the match, sliding in with a thunderous challenge on Taarabt, just as he was about to pull the trigger and fire at Hart’s goal from inside the 18-yard box.
It’s a bitter irony that City should draw a blank on the night it was announced Mario Balotelli was leaving for AC Milan. The news has been greeted with dismay by some and celebrated by others.
His transfer goes against the grain, especially with City seemingly not planning on replacements before the transfer deadline at 23.00hrs on Thursday.
As for Mario, for all the crazy stunts, the petulance, the adolescent outbursts etc the City fans loved him (well most at any rate).
His stats, while at City, make decent reading – 80 appearances and 30 goals – but it could and should have been so much more. Mancini so wishes things had been different during Mario’s time in Manchester.
Mancini said” I love him [Mario] and all his team mates love Mario too because he is a great guy and a fantastic player. We are so sad in this moment.”
It’s worth noting that Mario has only ever been credited with one assist during his time at City but what an assist it was…[AGUUEEERRROOOOOO]. One can but wonder if Mario’s emotional farewell at the pre-match meal had an adverse effect on the team just hours before kick off
City are back to being seven points behind United, but with another 42 points still to be harvested before the conclusion to the season it’d be a fool who writes off Mancini and his team. Surely memories are not that short and faith that shallow? It’s Forza Mancini, despite City’s inactivity in the transfer window. The title CAN be retained and the FA Cup won.