Belfast Telegraph

Mancini hails super Mario

Roberto Mancini hailed Mario Balotelli's performance in Sunday's 5-0 thrashing of Sunderland as "perfect" - even though the striker did not get his name on the scoresheet at Eastlands.

City leapfrogged Chelsea into third place in the Barclays Premier League with their emphatic victory over the Black Cats. Fit again pair Adam Johnson and Carlos Tevez put City two goals ahead before second-half strikes from David Silva, Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure completed the rout as Mancini's positive-looking team selection paid dividends.

With Johnson and Tevez available to play from the start, Mancini opted to put Balotelli alongside them in the City attack rather than Edin Dzeko and was delighted to see the 20-year-old pose a constant threat whilst keeping himself out of trouble. "Mario was perfect - it is not important that he didn't score," Mancini said.

"He worked for the team, was strong and did not talk to the referee or the opposition. It was perfect. It is important that he continues to do this and does not stop after this game."

Johnson, who had come on as a substitute in City's previous two games, also gave an impressive display on his return to the first XI and Mancini believes his squad benefited from having two weeks to prepare for the fixture due to the international break.

"The difference is that we had time to train and recovered more players - we only had some problems with the defenders," said Mancini, who was without injured pair Micah Richards and Jerome Boateng, Pablo Zabaleta (recently on compassionate leave) and the suspended Kolo Toure at the back, and drafted in Dedryck Boyata.

"I think we can still improve, because we had a problem when we lost five or six players and were playing every few days. This is very difficult for every team, but now we have recovered some players, if we don't have a problem with the defenders, I think we can continue from this performance.

"Adam Johnson is an important player for us. When we lost him we had a problem, because in his position, we have only him."

City are now a point above Chelsea and six clear of fifth-placed Tottenham in the race for Champions League football. They are also only three points behind second-placed Arsenal after all three London clubs were held to draws at the weekend. The trio all have a game in hand over City, but Mancini's side appear to be within touching distance of sealing a top-four berth and although the Italian feels league leaders Manchester United are out of reach, he might even be starting to focus on a push for the runners-up spot.

He said: "It (the result) was important for many reasons. We went into third position, we are three points away from Arsenal and Chelsea are behind. It is true they both have one game in hand, but it was an important game. It was an important weekend, although the big weekend will be when we win something."


From Belfast Telegraph