Balotelli's wild weekend

Mario Balotelli scored two goals and drew a foul which earned a red card in Manchester City's 6-1...

Mario Balotelli scored two goals and drew a foul which earned a red card in Manchester City's 6-1 drubbing of Man. United at Old Trafford. (REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)

TIM KEEBLE, SPORTS NETWORK

, Last Updated: 3:30 PM ET

Chances are Mario Balotelli had a more interesting weekend than you did.

After all, the Manchester City striker set his house on fire and led his team to one of its most important wins in recent memory, and he did it in less than 48 hours.

The Italian has always been a bit of an enigma, and this past weekend is just the latest example of what makes him so intriguing.

Balotelli told club officials that the fire started after he and four of his friends were setting off fireworks through an open window, causing serious fire and smoke damage to the property.

The 21-year-old and his friends all escaped unhurt, but it had to be a little disconcerting for City that its prized young striker was busy shooting fireworks out his bathroom window just 36 hours before the biggest game of the season.

Yet all was forgiven on Sunday as Balotelli scored two goals and drew a foul on Manchester United's Jonny Evans which earned the defender a red card in City's 6-1 drubbing of United at Old Trafford.

Balotelli provided the lone goal in a tight first half and drew the foul on Evans just one minute after the restart, which proved to be the turning point in the match.

City went on to roll from there, recording just its third win at Old Trafford against United in its last 38 attempts, and moving five points clear at the top of the table.

Summer-signing Sergio Aguero is tied atop the league with nine goals, while Edin Dzeko has tallied eight for City so far this season.

But manager Roberto Mancini believes that Balotelli could be better than both players, and it appears he is starting to find his form with at least one goal in each of his last five games.

Balotelli is no stranger to controversy but it is hard to deny the fact that his pure ability ranks right up there with the top strikers in the world.

He came up through the ranks at Inter with Mancini in charge, but when the boss left Inter for City, Balotelli fell out of favour with new manager Jose Mourinho and endured a tough time in Milan until he was moved last summer.

His first season with City saw him battle injuries and clash with Mancini, yet he still scored six times in 17 games.

But he is beginning to play at a different level this term, and his manager is taking notice.

"If we want to talk about Mario the football player, we can put him in the first five players in the world," Mancini said following Sunday's win.

"I hope for him and for football that Mario can change his mind completely. After this, he can become one of the best players in the world like Messi and Ronaldo."

Mentioning Balotelli alongside those names could be a bit premature, but Mancini knows better than anyone the kind of talent his young striker possesses and what it could mean to the future success of his team.

City has been on the verge of joining the elite clubs in England for a few years, but this season finally looks like the one to confirm that notion, especially if the team's attack continues to fire on all cylinders.

It is ironic that Balotelli's good run of form is coming at the same time that another troubled City striker, Carlos Tevez, appears to have worn out his welcome.

The Argentina international became an instant hit with City supporters, but he has just as quickly fallen out of favour after requesting to be transferred and putting the club in a tough position.

The emergence of Balotelli will make it easier to move on from Tevez, while also providing the young striker with an example of how quickly things can turn on a bad decision.

If Mancini, who has called Balotelli "crazy", can keep him under wraps for the duration of the season and continue to get the kind of production he knows his player is capable of, this could turn out to be a memorable year for the Citizens.

But if this past weekend taught us anything, it's that the next explosion can come at any time.


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