Sport360's latest scouting report focuses on Italy striker Mario Balotelli
Head coach Roberto Mancini’s decision to start maverick striker Mario Balotelli backfired as Italy were forced to come from behind to draw 1-1 with Poland in their Nations League opener.
The supremo’s competitive bow saw him turn to his long-term acolyte, despite a glaring lack of action for Nice in the early weeks of the season. There were few surprises in Bologna when the limp 28-year-old failed to ignite a new-look Azzurri during an forgettable hour on the pitch.
It required the help of substitutes Andrea Belotti of Torino and Federico Chiesa of Fiorentina to win the equalising penalty, effortlessly converted by Chelsea midfielder Jorginho. This redemptive goal on Friday was needed to level unmarked Napoli attacking midfielder Piotr Zielinski’s first-half volley for fast-starting Poland – Jorginho lost the ball in the build-up.
Here, we analyse the poor performance of Balotelli.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 1
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 12
Passes – 3
Key passes – 0
Dribbles – 0
Dispossessed – 1
Balotelli’s status as a Mancini’s favourite continued when gifted a start for Italy’s Nations League opener.
This call could only be classed as an error. The undercooked Nice striker barely made a dent on the match and Italy were much improved after his second-half removal.
His only shot from the fixture was woeful and there was no chemistry with Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne and Juventus’ Federico Bernardeschi in Mancini’s 4-3-3 formation.
The only surprise came when a clearly unfit Balotelli wasn’t hooked at half-time.
Racking up the minutes – Positives are in short supply for Balotelli after this. The only one that could be found is the fact that his 62 minutes at Stadio Renato Dall’Ara was only 14 minutes less than he’s managed for Nice throughout 2018/19.
With more minutes, his sharpness should return. This was the script during a belatedly prolific 2017/18.
Where can you begin? – Balotelli may as well have not turned up for this game. His only attempt of the match went nowhere near the goal and his lack of pressing made it an easy start to the match for Poland’s unruffled centre-backs – when he was on the pitch, at least.
His 12 touches was one less than goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. An embarrassing three passes were made during his hour on the park.
37th min CHANCE: Balotelli swivels well on the ball 25-yards from goal, but then wildly blasts over his only chance of the game.
51st min CHANCE: An inviting cross from the left appears bound for Balotelli’s head, only for West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to snatch the ball in the air.
61st min SUBSTITUTED: A listless night is brought to an early end when Belotti replaces Balotelli. He toys with his hamstring as he walks off, although this could have been a face-saving gesture.
Mancini has consistently entrusted Balotelli throughout their intertwined careers.
For the head coach’s competitive bow, he turned – once again – to the enigmatic striker whom he gifted a Serie A-debut to at Internazionale in 2007, procured for Manchester City in 2010 and brought back from the international wilderness in May.
But if this was an exhibition of what Mancini can expect moving ahead, he needs to explore other options. Too much is at stake for the Azzurri after the shameful failure to make World Cup 2018 under Gian Piero Ventura.
Even Balotelli’s lack of competitive minutes in Ligue 1 could not account for this feckless run-out.
Belotti was more lively during his cameo. Ciro Immobile remained on the substitute’s bench, despite his continued scoring exploits for Lazio.
Something has to give, starting with Monday’s trip to Portugal.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com