Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Europa League - Man City qualifies thanks to Balotelli and Johnson

Manchester City 3-0 Salzburg

Balotelli Nets Brace To Secure Qualification For Mancini’s Side

Manchester City are one of the final 32 clubs to remain in the Europa League following the group stage after they defeated Austrian club FC RB Salzburg 3-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium.

With Juventus drawing 1-1 against Lech Poznan, Roberto Mancini’s side have qualified with a game to spare and are now at the top of Group A before their final match against the Italian club based in Torino.

The home team started well, dominating the game in possession and passing, while the attacking pair of Mario Balotelli and Jo were creating many goal scoring opportunities early on (and throughout the rest of the game as well).

Balotelli spurned a glorious chance early on, following a wonderful through pass by Patrick Vieira. The Italian burst forward towards goal but instead of slipping in Jo, which would have given the Brazilian striker an easy finish, the ex-Inter striker had a go at the opposing keeper (Gerhard Tremmel) but it was easily saved.

Mario Balotelli celebrating with Jo after scoring a goal

Just minutes later, Balotelli displayed the brilliance which prompted City to pay a reported £24 million for him in the summer as he opened the scoring. Another piece of prolonged build-up play by the hosts gave Pablo Zabaleta space on the left wing to cross, and his ball found the Italian who effortlessly guided his volley past Tremmel.

Salzburg offered little in attack and the visitors were reduced to speculative pot shots for the majority of the opening half, which barely troubled Shay Given, who had been given a rare outing by Mancini.

Balotelli began to show his temperament as the half progressed and frustratingly for Mancini, the 20-year-old’s antics were affecting City’s chances to extend the scoreline.

After an excellent chipped pass from Adam Johnson, the Italian raced through and showed natural strength in brushing off Franz Schiemer but as he got closer to goal, the Italian went without any hint of a challenge in a bid to win a penalty. The referee wasn’t conned and Balotelli spurned the opportunity to grab a brace before the interval.

City’s midfield barely had to move out of second gear and the tenacity of James Milner, combined with the vision and execution of Vieira’s passing ability, created plenty of attacking opportunities for the hosts.

Shaun Wright-Phillips was also given the opportunity to shine and whilst proving long spells on the sidelines will not decrease your pace, his crossing was erratic. As a stark contrast, Adam Johnson had little of the ball but his delivery was consistently accurate.

The last chance of the half fell to Milner as the midfielder showed a rare burst of pace and raced through on goal but screwed his shot narrowly wide.

City resumed proceedings in a similar fashion to the opening half, and immediately Wright-Phillips, who had switched flanks with Johnson, burst down the left but once again his final ball was disappointing as the England international failed to pick out Balotelli with his cutback.

It continued to become one-way traffic and even the visitors struggled to take control of the game with a man advantage, after Johnson slipped off the pitch for a few minutes.

The pressure finally amounted to City doubling their advantage after Johnson slipped in Vieira, whose scuffed shot fell nicely into the path of Balotelli and the striker, whose subsequent celebrations were strangely muted, was left with a simple side-footed finish past Tremmel.

Salburg responded by prompting Given to make his first save of the evening, albeit after 70 minutes of play. Stefan Hierlander's 30-yard shot skimmed across the fine Eastlands surface but the Irish goalkeeper was a match to the effort and was able to tip the ball around the post.

As City continued their snowy stroll, the home fans turned their attentions to Salzburg substitute Alan, and the Brazilian was subject to cheers every time he touched the ball and chants of ‘Alan, give us a wave’ rendered the midfielder bemused.

But the City fans were given one final cheer as Johnson wrapped up the game thirteen minutes from time in exquisite fashion. After jinking in from the left touchline, the midfielder breezed past two players and his right-footed finish curled sublimely past the Salzburg goalkeeper.

The hosts comfortably regained control of possession and managed to see out the match without any further drama. The ease of victory, as well as ensuring progression to the next round, will undoubtedly place City as one of the favorites to lift the trophy in challenge to the current holders (Atletico Madrid).


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