Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini insisted Everton forward Moise Kean was "completely different" to Mario Balotelli.

Kean left the Serie A champions for Everton last year, with the Premier League side paying £25million (€27.5m) for the Italy forward.

The 20-year-old had scored just once in 26 appearances for Everton before this season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was dropped in November reportedly for a disciplinary breach.

Kean was also condemned by Everton in April after an apparent breach of lockdown rules.

Having previously criticised Brescia forward Balotelli, Chiellini said Kean was nothing like the former Inter and Manchester City man.

"Balotelli only has the shot. There are those who now compare him with Moise Kean, a boy who appears rebellious and unmanageable, but is completely different from Mario," Chiellini wrote in Io, Giorgio.

"Of course, in Juventus youth he was punished many times, but when he played in the first team he always showed himself very respectful towards the group.

"Sometimes he does not hear the alarm and arrives late, but they are behaviours that can be changed without difficulty."

Kean came through the youth system at Juventus, where he scored eight goals in 21 games before his departure.

Mario Balotelli has responded to reports he failed to attend training on Sunday, insisting he is not "invisible to the cameras" that were present at the session.

Balotelli has endured a difficult season with hometown club Brescia, the 29-year-old managing just five goals in 19 Serie A appearances this term. 

Brescia president Massimo Cellino said on Thursday that he expects Balotelli to leave, conceding it was a mistake to sign the former Manchester City forward, who reportedly skipped training on Tuesday. 

Similar reports emerged in the Italian media on Sunday. However, using his official Instagram account, Balotelli denied the speculation. 

"How can you write that I am not training on the pitch? There are journalists at the centre at all my sessions, obviously with their TV cameras!" Balotelli said on his Instagram story. 

"I attend two training sessions a day, almost every day! How can you deny the evidence? I didn't think I was a phantom, invisible to the cameras." 

As well as Celino's criticism of Balotelli, the Italy international also had a training-ground bust-up with former head coach Fabio Grosso in November. 

He was given permission to leave the club in January, only to stay put before the coronavirus pandemic caused the suspension of the season in March. 

Brescia president Massimo Cellino expects Mario Balotelli to leave the club at the end of the season as the striker "no longer has his head with us".

Balotelli signed a three-year deal with hometown side Brescia last year but his time with the Serie A strugglers has been plagued by numerous off-field issues.

The Italy international was involved in a training-ground spat with former head coach Fabio Grosso in November and was told he could leave the club in January after falling out with Cellino.

He remained at the Stadio Mario Rigamonti but failed to score in six matches before the coronavirus-enforced shutdown and is reported to have skipped training on Tuesday.

And Cellino is anticipating a parting of the ways between Balotelli and Brescia, who are are nine points from safety with 12 games to play.

"I try to avoid legal action and the Balotelli case was blown out of proportion because there's no football and little else to talk about," he told Telelombardia

"He no longer has his head with us and I am taking his departure for granted. It's not necessarily different to what he's always done in his career – he's just a bit anarchic.

"His contract is automatically annulled in case of relegation into Serie B, so with all probability he'll be a free agent next season, considering our status."

Balotelli has five goals in 19 appearances for Brescia this season and Cellino acknowledges the high-profile move has not gone to plan.

"[Former boss] Eugenio Corini cared for him, he allowed some lateness to slide, a few training sessions at a low tempo. We are disappointed, perhaps he will be too," he added.

"We didn't sign Balotelli just as a media coup, we really did believe he could've given us an important contribution on the pitch. 

"I thought, because I like him, that he could create something new for himself in Brescia. We are disappointed in him."

A little over two minutes before the moment that will forever define his career, Manchester City hero Sergio Aguero showed sharpness in the Queens Park Rangers goalmouth that would not have been out of place at Old Trafford.

Old Trafford cricket ground that is, just down the road from City's bitter rivals and their home of the same name.

As Edin Dzeko's equaliser from David Silva's right-wing corner bounced back off the netting, Aguero pounced, snaffling it like a quicksilver short-leg fielder and darting back to the centre circle for City's final tilt at the improbable.

There was certainly nothing wrong with the striker's movement after Joey Barton brazenly tried to dead leg him – one of many surreal and key incidents that fed into a frenzied and famous race against the clock on May 13, 2012.

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The whole story is now as well worn as any in football history.

On the cusp of a first top-flight title for 44 years, Robert Mancini's Manchester City faced relegation-threatened QPR on the final day of the season. In their previous 18 Premier League home matches that season, they had won 17 and drawn the other – the most recent of those a 1-0 win over United that tipped a titanic Mancunian tussle back towards the blue side of town.

City simply needed to match United's result at Sunderland and led 1-0 at the interval thanks to Pablo Zabaleta, only for second-half goals from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie to turn the contest on its head.

It remained 2-1 heading into stoppage time despite QPR operating with 10 men. City youth product Barton was dismissed for tussling with Carlos Tevez and responded to Mike Dean's red card by thumping his knee into Aguero's thigh before aiming a headbutt at Vincent Kompany. Fireworks enthusiast Mario Balotelli poured some petrol on this particular bonfire by confronting the combustible Scouser as he stomped towards the tunnel.

Aside from that significant blemish, QPR's discipline was otherwise impeccable. Despite ceding 81.3 possession overall and 84.1 per cent during the second half, they only made seven fouls. Stoppages were infrequent as City thrashed and flailed with increasing desperation and diminishing artistry around the opposition penalty area.

Without Barton's meltdown, there is little chance five minutes of stoppage time - or the three minutes and 20 seconds they ultimately required - would have been signalled. It was time City desperately needed and time they could put to good use with their top scorer's fast-twitch fibres bristling.

                                                                *********************

Barton was not the only QPR man with City connections. His team-mates Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha had also graduated through Jim Cassell's Platt Lane youth system, while Rangers boss Mark Hughes was Mancini's immediate predecessor, having been axed shortly before Christmas in 2009.

Hughes, of course, also played for United with distinction across two spells, and those loyalties struck a chord as news came through Bolton Wanderers had failed to beat Stoke City, meaning the Londoners were safe irrespective of the outcome at the Etihad Stadium.

"[City] got back on level terms and I always remember, at that point, I knew we were safe because the other result came in," he told the Coaches Voice earlier this year.

"I'm thinking, 'I wouldn't mind United winning, if I'm honest'. It's 2-2 and Jay Bothroyd looked over, asking what we wanted them to do [from the restart]. The players understood the [Bolton] game was over and we'd stayed up. We just said kick it as far as you can, right in the corner and the game's over."

Hughes' recollections from that point credit City with a poise they absolutely lacked. Rarely can a team have scored twice in this space of two minutes and – save for a crucial few seconds – played so shambolically.

Bothroyd's hoof found touch and scampering Joe Hart ran out of his goal to take the throw-in. The England goalkeeper almost missed the pitch.

Gael Clichy carried the ball down the flank, only for his attempted cross to turn into a block tackle with Mackie. Samir Nasri's aimless, floated effort that followed did little more than give Clint Hill a ninth successful clearance of the afternoon.

Nasri then excelled himself by shepherding the ball out for a QPR throw-in. Just 40 seconds before that explosion of ecstasy there was fury and anguish in the stands. Aguero watched it all from roughly the QPR penalty spot. Apparently he'd seen quite enough.

                                                                *********************

Now 31 and City's all-time top scorer, Aguero honed his lethal skills playing against bigger boys in Buenos Aires on the neighbourhood potrero – the hard gravel and mud neighbourhood pitches that football purists in Argentina bemoan are a diminishing presence.

"When you play you have to think fast. Who to take on, who not," Aguero said when recalling those days in a 2018 documentary for City's in-house television channel. "You know who is going to play dirty, who isn't.

"You start to realise what you can do on the pitch and what you can't."

Reflecting further in the 2019 book 'Pep's City' by Pol Ballus and Lu Martin, he further explained the proving ground that readied him for Barton and others.

"Getting kicked black and blue was all part of the game," he said. "You held on to the ball any way you could.

"Running with the ball was a whole different concept for us. I'd be up against big, tough boys and I was always the smallest. But I learned how to survive."

Aguero remembered those matches were played for the prize of a peso, which would garner one of his favourite sweet treats, an alfajor or dulce de leche.

As United's players took in full-time and three points at the Stadium of Light, and Nigel de Jong brought the ball forward in Manchester to the soundtrack of QPR celebrations – their fans aware of Bolton's fate – the stakes were somewhat higher.

Vacating his spot in a penalty area already crowded by substitutes Dzeko and Balotelli, along with a marauding Kompany, Aguero took possession from De Jong 30 yards from goal.

He faced up to a compact QPR back four, with the visitors' four midfielders all in his immediate vicinity.

"You start to realise what you can do on the pitch and what you can't."

A shuffling touch to his left engineered space outside Shaun Derry, but Aguero needed help. Ideally from someone reliable, given the complete lack of any margin for error.

                                                                *********************

Balotelli was on the pitch in a Manchester City shirt for the first time in over a month.

Mancini had not trusted his wayward protege since a brainless red card in a 1-0 Easter Sunday defeat at Arsenal left City eight points behind United with six games to play. Tevez, who had spent the bulk of the campaign AWOL playing golf in Argentina, represented a far more dependable option.

But with nowhere left to turn, he dared and prayed for Mario to be super. However briefly.

Introduced in the 76th minute, Balotelli gave the impression he had not just been banished from Premier League arenas, but football pitches altogether since his previous game.

The Italy striker managed to run through seven attempts – two on target, five blocked – during a frenzied cameo. It was probably as well Aguero found him with his back to goal, inside the D and grappling with Anton Ferdinand.

"I tried to control the ball and I had a contact from the defender and the ball went a little bit far from my foot," Balotelli told City TV five years on. "I thought in that half second there is maybe going to be a little bit of space for Sergio."

If Balotelli had stayed upright, the likelihood is QPR would have seen through their final piece of dogged tireless defending. In being forced on to his backside for the only assist of his Premier League career, he created opportunity and chaos.

Facing his own goal, Derry had to hurdle a prone Balotelli, while Wright-Phillips' route back to defend was also compromised. With his centre-back partner grounded, Hill held his position square on, while Kompany's haring towards the six-yard box dragged left-back Taye Taiwo with him.

A pocket of space opened up. A spot of turf Balotelli was able to locate from his sedentary position. As limbs flailed around him and a tight defence scattered, Aguero was thinking fast. The law of the porteno.

                                                                *********************

Argentina's aforementioned tradition of tough, uncompromising neighbourhood football goes hand in hand with the mystique and mythology that cloaks the country's national sport.

A playing style grounded in skill and improvisation - La Nuestra, which translates as "our way" – was locked into the collective consciousness during the first half of the 20th century. The preeminent football magazine El Grafico, served to deepen this romantic attachment, with depictions of the pibe – literally a kid or urchin, whose rough and ready footballing techinique combined street smarts and skill and was something of an archetype. Typically they would dribble in the gambeta style, a description that implies close control, cunning and deceit of opponents.

The idea that the likes of Diego Maradona, Ariel Ortega, Lionel Messi and all those other squat, explosive and technically brilliant attackers from Argentina immersed themselves in the yellowed pages of El Grafico archive is far-fetched, but the style is unquestionably embedded. Think of the amount of barrelling, dribbling goals such players have produced – close control, small pauses and faints as thighs piston their way through defences.

As the walls were closing in on City's title bid, Aguero showed himself to be a proud product of this lineage. When Balotelli began his battle against gravity, he deftly checked his run behind and around Wright-Phillips to open up a path to the penalty area.

Letting the pass roll, he shaped to shoot, drawing a scampering Taiwo, who left his Kompany decoy a little too late to remain in control. Aguero did not actually touch Balotelli's return pass until his body position persuaded a rash slide tackle that he nudged beyond with the outside of his right boot.

With Taiwo suitably gambeta'd, there came one last stroke of fortune.

                                                                *********************

"I touched it again and saw I was close to the goal, so I said 'I'll shoot'. The worst thing was that I wanted to shoot hard across goal and it went to the near post, I don't know what happened" Aguero told TyC Sports last month – the latter sentiment at least aligning him with every soul inside the Etihad Stadium that day.

"After watching it back, I realised that if I had shot across goal a defender could have blocked it. I celebrated the goal and told everybody, 'I hit it so well!'."

Goal 23 of a personal Premier League tally that now reads 180, one of 127 with Aguero's ferocious right boot, understandably left an indelible impression on the suddenly defeated Hughes.

"Of all the games I've been involved in, that noise at that moment when that goal went in is different to anything I've ever heard before or since.

"It was just unbelievable sound – different sound to a football crowd. It was a mixture of screaming and noise. It was just an unbelievable moment."

That racket has since been replayed thousands of times across the world. A goal on a tightrope that altered the course of English football, which began with gifting the opposition a 92nd-minute throw-in and ended thanks to a miscue after the main protagonist's strike partner fell over.

It is the Premier League's most famous goal - a moment as synonymous with Manchester as cotton mills and the Hacienda, and yet Argentinian to its very bones.

Marco Tardelli has expressed his disappointment over Giorgio Chiellini's "harsh" comments about Mario Balotelli and Felipe Melo.

Chiellini, who is releasing a new book, accused Mario Balotelli of being "a negative person" who "deserved a slap" for his conduct when part of Italy's squad at the 2013 Confederations Cup.

The Juventus defender was even more brutal when it came to his ex-club team-mate Felipe Melo, calling him "the worst of the worst" and revealing he told the team's management the midfielder was "a rotten apple".

Both players promptly hit back at Chiellini, who also expressed his hatred for rivals Inter. Balotelli insisted he had never disrespected the Italy shirt and slammed the Juve man for not telling him to his face, while Melo branded the veteran "unprofessional".

Tardelli spent 10 seasons with Juve and then two with Inter to conclude his Serie A career, while he won the World Cup with Italy in 1982.

He reacted to Chiellini's words on Twitter, posting: "I am truly disappointed by the statements by Giorgio Chiellini, captain of the national team, Juventus and a leading man on the AIC [Italian Footballers' Association] board.

"Harsh words towards team-mates - colleagues who should consider him a point of reference.

"The hatred declared towards another club creates hatred. Respect for the opponent even in the toughest fight, that is what I learned from captains like Dino Zoff and Gaetano Scirea."

Mario Balotelli and Felipe Melo fired back at stinging criticism from Juventus and Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini.

Chiellini was scathing of his former team-mates – the Juve captain accusing Balotelli of being "a negative person", while adding the Italian forward deserved a slap during the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Brescia star Balotelli hit back at the comments made in Chiellini's new autobiography via social media on Saturday.

"At least I have the sincerity and courage to say things to your face," Balotelli wrote on Instagram, tagging Chiellini.

"Since 2013 you've had a lot of chances to act like a real man, but you haven't. Who knows what you'll say one day about your current team-mates.

"A strange captain... if this is what being a champion is then I'd prefer not to be one. I've never disrespected the Azzurri shirt."

Chiellini, 35, was more brutal when it came to assessing former Juve colleague Melo – the Brazilian midfielder who played for the Bianconeri from 2009 to 2011 before eventually joining Serie A rivals Inter.

"Even worse was Felipe Melo: the worst of the worst. There was always a fight with him. I also told the managers: he's a rotten apple," Chiellini wrote.

Melo – who now plays for Palmeiras – told Gazzetta dello Sport: "It would be interesting to know what incident he's referring to. I don't have a problem responding to him.

"I never disrespected anyone in Turin, but he says that Balotelli deserved a slap and that I was the worst of the worst and that there was always a threat of a fight because of me.

"He always pissed himself. I'm sorry, but it's easy to speak badly of others in a book.

"Perhaps he's still angry because when I went to Galatasaray we knocked them out of the Champions League and we beat Italy with Brazil.

"He's won nothing at international level and saying things like this shows him to be unprofessional.

"It shows a lack of respect and I won't say any more. Some things have to stay in the dressing room."

Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini has launched a blistering takedown of former Italy team-mate Mario Balotelli, accusing him of being "a negative person".

The pair were Azzurri team-mates for several years, when Balotelli was a maverick young striker who looked set to achieve great things.

In a new autobiography, Chiellini snaps at his former colleague, writing: "Balotelli is a negative person, without respect for the squad.

"At the Confederations Cup, in 2013, he didn't give us a hand in anything, stuff that deserves a slap."

During the tournament in question, Balotelli scored twice, including a penalty, in the group stage, before a thigh injury ruled him out of the semi-final against Spain, who beat Italy on penalties.

Balotelli was a Milan player at the time and has since had spells with Liverpool, Nice and Marseille, with Brescia the latest stop-off in a varied career.

Chiellini, 35, was more brutal when it came to assessing former Juve colleague Felipe Melo, the Brazilian midfielder who played for the Bianconeri from 2009 to 2011.

"Even worse was Felipe Melo: the worst of the worst. There was always a fight with him. I also told the managers: he's a rotten apple," Chiellini wrote.

He backed up his comments in an interview with Saturday's La Repubblica newspaper, saying: "I confirm it, but I have no grudge and nor am I interested in having one. If I have to share something with them, I will.

"I'm not everyone's best friend, but they are the only two who have gone beyond an acceptable limit.

"For me, the problem is not if you play well, badly or if you sometimes have an evening out, but if you lack respect and have nothing inside. Once, it's fine, if it's recurring, it's not."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mario Balotelli, Yaya Toure, Sebastian Giovinco and Alex Teixeira are among the potential signings being targeted by Vasco da Gama presidential candidate Luiz Roberto Leven Siano.

High-profile additions to the playing staff are among a number of ambitious proposals Leven, who hopes to gain control of the club at elections planned for November, has put forward to turn around the fortunes of a club that has struggled to pay wages this year.

As part of the 'Somamos' project he also hopes to bring in US$400million in six years, redevelop the Sao Januario and raise the capacity to 55,000, increase the membership base to record-breaking levels and purchase clubs in Europe and China to expand the Vasco brand.

Leven claims to have been working with Italian businessman and sporting director Fabio Cordella as well as agent Mino Raiola, whose clients include Ibrahimovic and Balotelli.

"We are negotiating, trying to make the Vasco of our dreams," Leven said in an interview with FOXSports.com.br.

"Balotelli and Ibrahimovic have the same agent. Ibrahimovic would be a more daring project.

"But you don't have to think about which great player will be hired, but that we will bring in great players. If it's not one, it will be another."

Former Manchester City and Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure was linked with a switch to Botafogo that did not come to fruition, but Leven suggested Vasco stand a chance of securing a deal for the former Ivory Coast international.

"In football there are no coincidences. If [Toure] didn't go to Botafogo, it was because someone stopped him. Maybe he's close to me," he said.

A move to return Jiangsu Suning forward Teixeira to Vasco reportedly hit a stumbling block, while Al Hilal's Giovinco is understood to be another target for the club.

Leven has also promised to bring Brazil international Souza back to the club.

"If we have players at the level of Balotelli, Yaya Toure, Giovinco, Alex Teixeira and Souza, we are a competitive team," added Leven.

Italy coach Roberto Mancini insists the door remains open for Mario Balotelli to make a return to the national team.

Balotelli has not played for his country since a 1-1 draw with Poland in September 2018, when he featured for just over an hour of the Nations League fixture.

The forward scored five goals in 19 appearances for bottom club Brescia before the Serie A season was halted due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, having returned to his homeland after three years in France.

Still, Mancini knows all about the player's qualities from their time working together previously, having coached him at Inter and Manchester City prior to taking charge of the Azzurri.

"If he only thinks about football and does what he has to do, the doors are open, for him as for many other players who may not have been called up," Mancini said in an interview with Sport Mediaset.

"Mario is like everyone else - he has important qualities, but it depends only on him."

Balotelli is not the only player who could benefit from Euro 2020 being pushed back due to the COVID-19 outbreak across Europe.

Roma's Nicolo Zaniolo was set to miss the tournament this year due to injury, yet now has time to recover and be part of Italy's plans in 2021.

Mancini said of the versatile 20-year-old: "He will grow like the other younger boys. Another year will be important for him.

"The first time I saw him he played as a midfielder and I think that's his position. But he has the possibility to play wide on the right, as he is playing in Rome at times. 

"If a player with important qualities can fill multiple roles without any problems, this is an advantage for him and for us."

Italy qualified in impressive fashion, running away with Group J with a 100 per cent record, giving Mancini confidence they can do well when the finals eventually take place.

"Bringing the championship back to Italy after so many years, since the last one was won in 1968, would be a magnificent thing we want to do. We have the qualities to do it," he added.

Manchester City's 6-1 thumping of Alex Ferguson's Manchester United in October 2011 sent shockwaves throughout the football world.

Roberto Mancini's team's evisceration of their illustrious rivals at Old Trafford served booming notice of Premier League title ambitions that would be dramatically realised the following May.

Since that day, City have claimed four top-flight crowns to the one that marked Ferguson's 2012-13 United swansong.

As such, talk of a powershift in Manchester is often pinned on a game simple known as "the 6-1" in City circles.

However, there is an argument that a derby win 200 miles south of Manchester at Wembley Stadium six months earlier was more significant in terms of laying the foundations of what was to come.

Yaya Toure scored the only goal in that FA Cup semi-final on April 16, 2011, a day when Mancini's hastily yet carefully assembled City began to scent everything was possible.

FORZA MANCINI

Unlike the current incumbent of the Etihad Stadium hotseat, current Italy boss Mancini will not feature in many conversations debating the finest coaches of this generation.

An impressive CV, featuring Serie A and Premier League success, is checked in the eyes of some observers due to the respective factors of his Inter benefiting from Juventus' punishment in the Calciopoli scandal and a bulging Abu Dhabi war chest at City.

Then there are the frequent short-tempered altercations with players that result in few former charges burnishing the Mancini legend.

However, there can be little doubt that the hard-headed and tactically sharp Sampdoria great was exactly the right man at the right time for Manchester City.

As evidenced by a touchline spat the following season, Mancini relished the challenge of head-to-head combat with Ferguson – an attitude that quickly seeped through a club that had generally dreaded derby day for two decades.

A profile by The Athletic recently detailed how City's team bus went the wrong way to Wembley en route to the United match and Mancini, very much the superstitious type, made the driver repeat the convoluted route ahead of the final against Stoke City.

They were the only wrong turns he took when navigating the pursuit of his club's first silverware for 35 years, with two of his major signings coming to the party on cue.

TOURE THE MATCH-WINNER

Despite some scattergun buys, particularly after Sheikh Mansour's takeover went through in September 2008, Mark Hughes left Mancini a useful inheritance. Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry, Pablo Zabaleta and captain Vincent Kompany would all go on to be pivotal figures in the 2011-12 title win.

City's 2010 close-season haul of recruits was expensive but astutely put together, as David Silva, James Milner, Aleksandar Kolarov, Jerome Boateng and Mario Balotelli all arrived alongside Toure.

That £24million signing from Barcelona was derided in some quarters – Toure was an average player who neither created nor scored goals, in Paul Merson's judgement.

As hilariously as those words read now when considering one of the Premier League's great midfield players, it was easy to view the big Ivorian as possibly surplus to requirements. A holding player at Barcelona, Mancini already had Barry, Nigel de Jong and an ageing Patrick Vieira for such duties.

Of course, Toure would prove to be so much more than that, unleashed ahead of the De Jong-Barry midfield base to wreak havoc. He seized upon Michael Carrick's early second-half mistake at Wembley, smoothly accelerated beyond Nemanja Vidic and slotted past Edwin van der Sar to spark bedlam in the City end behind the goal.

Toure also scored to sink Stoke in the final and he frequently proved himself as the man for the big moments thereafter. He hit a brace at Newcastle United to bring the title within touching distance in 2012 and scored remarkable solo goals against Crystal Palace and Aston Villa to do likewise two years later.

The 2013-14 season also saw Toure spark a 3-1 comeback win over Sunderland in the EFL Cup final with an outrageous long-range finish. In 2016, he netted the decisive penalty to see off Liverpool in the same showpiece.

There were three more Manchester derby goals on the back of his Wembley heroics – two of those in resounding victories. City had found their ultimate clutch player.

THROW BALOTELLI IN JAIL

Toure's winner almost instantly injected a swagger into Manchester City that was impossible to equate with the squad that seemed to stagger apologetically into the national stadium.

A 3-0 thrashing at Liverpool on the preceding Monday and a hamstring injury to attacking talisman Carlos Tevez meant furrowed brows long before the satnav went rogue en route to Wembley.

United remarkably scored three injury-time winners in four derbies the previous season – including one in the EFL Cup semi-final – and Wayne Rooney's overhead kick to settle the February encounter at Old Trafford lay fresh in the memory.

Dimitar Berbatov passed up two glorious chances in quick succession, sliding the ball over from three yards after Joe Hart saved superbly. It felt like a matter of time until a United side still chasing a treble at that stage would make their superiority count.

But then two of Mancini's headline acquisitions set about shifting the contest in City's favour. David Silva shuffled and cajoled his attack up the pitch, deftly tying United up, silken thread by silken thread.

Already a European champion and World Cup winner with Spain at this stage of his career, Silva gracing the big occasion with aplomb was no more surprising than at any other point over the past decade. The same could not be said for the inimitable Balotelli.

The madcap charm of the Italian's early days in Manchester had lost much of its shine over the previous month. In a 2-0 Europa League defeat at Dynamo Kiev, Balotelli was substituted after suffering an allergic reaction to the grass.

In the return leg, City claimed a 1-0 win – their exit relatively valiant as it came with 10 men after Balotelli plunged his studs into Goran Popov's chest in the 35th minute. He was also said to have thrown darts at youth-team players to cap his own personal take on March madness.

A stricken Tevez clearing the way for Balotelli to start against United looked a recipe for further nonsense, but the enigmatic forward harnessed and channelled his lavish gifts.

Only Silva (four) created more than the two chances the ex-Inter youngster crafted for City, and Balotelli's four shots saw him threaten the United goal more frequently than any of his team-mates, all the while intelligently occupying the formidable centre-back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Vidic.

Balotelli dropping deep and fashioning space for a rasping 35-yard strike that Van der Sar had to turn over was the moment in the game City came up for air and belief seemed to flow thereafter.

Their centre-forward played like a grown-up right up until the final whistle, when he made a beeline for Ferdinand and sparked a brawl that Mancini pulled his perplexing protege away from.

"Every time something happens it seems to be Mario's fault," the City boss remarked. "If he did celebrate in front of the Manchester United supporters, I don't know, we can put him in jail if you like."

TEARING DOWN THE BANNER

Even if a permanent change in Balotelli's output would prove beyond Mancini, he arguably propelled a shift in his club's collective mindset in that FA Cup semi-final.

"If we win the FA Cup, then next season I think we can play for the title because we improve our mentality and we can improve our team," Mancini said afterwards. City did both those things.

United's frustrations as the afternoon progressed, demonstrated by Paul Scholes' red-card lunge on Zabaleta, suggested an awareness of what their lax showing was about to unleash.

City have not entered a derby as clear underdogs since. Once a club embarrassed by a trophy drought and Old Trafford's mocking ticker banner, six of the past seven major trophies contested in English football have ended up at the Etihad Stadium.

The vast sums spent on Sheikh Mansour's Eastlands project can make that return feel inevitable, but that was not the sense at Wembley in April 2011 as Mancini's players giddily joined their supporters in the backs-turned Poznan celebration at full-time, lapping up that first dizzying encounter with possibilities.

The 6-1 might be the result City fans still crow about at every derby, while Sergio Aguero's last-ditch escapology against Queens Park Rangers claimed a slice of football history never to be forgotten.

But without Toure's Wembley winner on a day neither as bombastic or cinematic as those high-water marks, the path to glory would have at best been delayed and very different indeed.

Brescia forward Mario Balotelli revealed he would love to play for Serie A side Napoli.

Balotelli joined hometown club Brescia in August last year, but was linked with a move to Napoli.

The former AC Milan, Inter and Liverpool forward said he tried to join Napoli and suggested he would still like a move to the Stadio San Paolo.

"I tried it [to join Napoli]," Balotelli told Fabio Cannavaro during an Instagram Live chat on Monday.

"I would have a great time in Naples. I would make my daughter head ultra. She supports Napoli.

"I sing to her, 'Brescia, Brescia', but she continues to support Napoli. She was very happy when I took her to the San Paolo, she was hypnotised.

"It is always a good emotion to enter San Paolo, although in my opinion the most beautiful stadium is San Siro."

Balotelli had scored five goals in 19 Serie A games this season when the campaign was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A 36-time Italy international, Balotelli, 29, last played for the national team in 2018 and said while he wanted a return, he respected coach Roberto Mancini.

"I have a special relationship with him," he said.

"I am happy if you feel you don't have to call me up for the national team because I know that if you were to call me up, you wouldn't do it to make me sit on the bench.

"It is right that you call who deserves it the most. The day I deserve it, I will be there and play."

Manchester United boast a pair of Manchester derby victories this season on enemy turf at the Etihad Stadium – triumphing 2-1 in the Premier League in December before a 1-0 win was not quite enough to overturn a 3-1 deficit from the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final.

At Old Trafford, though, the recent Premier League history of the fixture has served up a far more unpalatable reality for the Red Devils.

A 2-1 win in 2008 was City's first success at their great rivals' ground for 34 years, but a trio of United wins followed, culminating in Wayne Rooney's unforgettable overhead kick to claim three points on the way to the 2010-11 Premier League title.

Since then it has been a very different story and here we look back at the woeful run of form Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team will hope to overturn in Sunday's league clash.

 

MANCHESTER UNITED 1-6 MANCHESTER CITY (OCTOBER 23, 2011)

The game that emphatically announced a power shift in Manchester was on the cards. Mario Balotelli came, saw, conquered and had the "Why Always Me" T-shirt to prove it with goals either side of forcing Jonny Evans into a red card. Sergio Aguero capped a scintillating team move to make it 3-0 before Darren Fletcher's excellent finish persuaded Alex Ferguson's depleted side to chase the game in foolhardy fashion.

David Silva slotted in to split a brace from substitute Edin Dzeko and a derby demolition was complete. The margin of victory continued to resonate at the end of the campaign as City pipped United to the title on goal difference.

MANCHESTER UNITED 1-2 MANCHESTER CITY (APRIL 8, 2013)

Ferguson's side responded to that disappointment with a dominant campaign to earn their boss one more Premier League crown. The destination of the title was already a formality before City arrived for the derby, in which Aguero came off the bench to ram a brilliant solo strike into the roof of the net and settle the match. A Vincent Kompany own goal had briefly cancelled out James Milner's deflected second-half opener.

MANCHESTER UNITED 0-3 MANCHESTER CITY (MARCH 25, 2014)

A result that arguably marked the nadir of David Moyes' ill-fated stint as Ferguson's successor. Nine days on from Liverpool easing to a comprehensive 3-0 win at Old Trafford, City followed suit. There was little doubt over the outcome after Dzeko struck in the first minute. The Bosnian star also volleyed in a 56th-minute corner before Yaya Toure contributed to a personal 20-goal tally that proved pivotal to securing the title for Manuel Pellegrini's City.

MANCHESTER UNITED 4-2 MANCHESTER CITY (APRIL 12, 2015)

When Aguero tapped in from Silva's pass inside the first 10 minutes, another City procession looked on the cards. But United roared back in ferocious fashion. Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini ensured Louis van Gaal's team were ahead at the break before Juan Mata scampered through a scattered defence to get in on the act and Chris Smalling powered in number four. Aguero's 100th goal in City colours late on was scant consolation.

MANCHESTER UNITED 0-0 MANCHESTER CITY (OCTOBER 25, 2015)

Pellegrini and Van Gaal departed at the end of the 2015-16 season with their sides separated in fourth and fifth position respectively by goal difference, claiming hauls of 66 points after failing to win half of their matches. This forgettable stalemate was very much in keeping with that tepid overall offering. United substitute Jesse Lingard hit the crossbar late on.

MANCHESTER UNITED 1-2 MANCHESTER CITY (SEPTEMBER 10, 2016)

Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho stepped into the breach to elevate the Manchester rivalry once more and City threatened to run away with the reunion of the old Clasico foes. Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho established a first-half advantage, but an error by City debutant Claudio Bravo saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic reduce the arrears – paving the way for a tense and combative second half.

MANCHESTER UNITED 1-2 MANCHESTER CITY (DECEMBER 10, 2017)

Having competed at a distance from champions Chelsea in 2016-17, City and United were the frontrunners this time around. Set-piece frailties from the hosts saw the dominance of Guardiola's team in open play rewarded, with Silva and Nicolas Otamendi the beneficiaries. Marcus Rashford fleetingly had United level, but their rivals opened an 11-point lead at the summit and would go on to win the league with a record-breaking 100 points.

MANCHESTER UNITED 0-2 MANCHESTER CITY (APRIL 24, 2019)

City were being pushed all the way to glory by Liverpool last season and tension in the ranks was clear during a goalless first half. Bernardo Silva found the breakthrough and substitute Leroy Sane blasted through David de Gea's near-post efforts to ensure Solskjaer's first outing as a coach in the fixture ended in defeat.

Patrick Vieira insists there was never any chance of him replacing Unai Emery at Arsenal as he and Nice are "100 per cent" committed to one another.

Former Arsenal captain Vieira has been linked with the Gunners job since Arsene Wenger's departure in 2018, but Mikel Arteta instead took over after Emery was sacked in November.

The Frenchman says there were no talks with Arsenal on this occasion, although the Nice coach is adamant he would have turned down any offer regardless.

"No, but there is no place in my mind to have those kind of conversations," Vieira told the Daily Mail. "My focus is here [at Nice]. This project suits who I am and what I want to achieve.

"This rumour about the Arsenal job is not something that bothered me. I don't know what the future holds but that is why I don't want to put my brain somewhere that doesn't exist.

"This club knows I want to stay and I know they want me to stay, 100 per cent."

However, Vieira said he discussed the possibility of taking over from Wenger before he became Nice coach.

"It was just a conversation about my situation, where I am, what is the next step," he said. "Nothing came of it."

Vieira moved to Nice from New York City in June 2018 and found former Manchester City team-mate Mario Balotelli in his squad in France.

The Italy international, having starred at Nice prior to Vieira's arrival, failed to score under the new coach and departed for Marseille in the next transfer window.

Vieira added of Balotelli: "Mario's mindset was difficult for a collective sport.

"The philosophy I wanted to put in place, the togetherness and work ethic I wanted to build, it was difficult for me to work with a player like Mario.

"It was really difficult for both of us to work together, so we decided to go different ways."

Italian police have handed a five-year ban from sports events to a supporter who racially abused Mario Balotelli in Brescia's match at Hellas Verona.

The fan has not been named, with Italian media describing him as a 38-year-old from the city of Agrigento.

Widespread reports in Italy said the police commissioner of Verona, Ivana Petricca, imposed the ban after an investigation into the events of November 3, when Balotelli reported hearing monkey chants.

Italy international Balotelli kicked the ball into the stands and threatened to walk off the pitch in the second half of his side's 2-1 defeat at Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi, where he scored a late consolation goal for his team.

The abuse led to Serie A ordering a one-match partial stadium closure for Hellas Verona, while the club handed their head ultra an 11-year ban for defending the discriminatory chants.

Italian news agency ANSA said video footage and testimonies from those at the game led to the identification of the supporter, whose ban will apply to all sport events in Italy and within the European Union.

The man will be barred from parts of the city of Verona on football match days, ANSA said.

Lazio have avoided serious sanctions for racial abuse directed at Brescia's Mario Balotelli by their supporters after Lega Serie A confirmed the club have been handed a €20,000 fine.

Balotelli scored the opening goal in Sunday's encounter, before Lazio went on to claim a 2-1 victory thanks to Ciro Immobile's brace after Andrea Cistana had been sent off.

Shortly after Balotelli's goal, a warning was read out over the stadium's public address system after chants appeared to be targeting the Italy international.

Balotelli hit out at those responsible in an Instagram post that accompanied a clip of his goal, with the striker writing: "Lazio fans that were today [Sunday] at the stadium, SHAME ON YOU #saynotoracism."

The league agrees the chants were of a discriminatory nature and have issued a punishment, though Lazio avoided harsher sanctions due to their assistance in the investigation.

A Lega Serie A statement on Wednesday read: "Lazio was penalised an amount of €20,000 for having its supporters, in the 21st and 29th minutes of the first half, emitting a chant of racial discrimination against a player of the opposing team, in addition to an insulting chant against the same player in the 21st, 29th and 42nd minutes of the first half, which led the referee to interrupt the game to make the announcement aimed at the termination of the aforementioned discriminatory chant.

"The transmission of more detailed elements has also been arranged by the federal prosecutor, both with regards to the actual positioning (sector or sub sector)…of the supporters within which the leaders of this chant were placed, also regarding the active collaboration of Lazio in identifying the subjects involved in this discriminatory event, for the purpose of the possible adoption of further measures by this judge regarding the incident, and in any case also in relation to the evaluation of the possible recidivism."

This was not the first occasion Balotelli has been the target of abuse since returning to hometown club Brescia at the start of the season.

In November, the former Manchester City star kicked a ball into the stands and threatened to walk off the pitch after being subjected to monkey noises during a match against Hellas Verona.

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