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You should not trust Balotelli with your car or your house, because he’s liable to wreck them. Someone _ seemingly either him or a friend _ set off a firework in his house, causing a fire, in the early hours of Saturday, which certainly is a novel way to prepare for such a match.

But, with a ball at his feet, in front of goal, Balotelli is becoming very dependable. He made the day for headline writers _ “Mario Fireworks!” “Burning Balotelli!” _ by scoring twice. After the first goal, Balotelli lifted up his jersey to reveal a T-shirt underneath emblazoned with the question “Why always me?”

“He’s crazy,” City manager Roberto Mancini said. But as long as he scores like this, Balotelli’s quirkiness will be secondary.

Mancini, as is customary, brought what he said was a “very good” bottle of wine from his native Italy to share with Ferguson after the game. For the Scotsman, it must have tasted as sour as vinegar.

“It was our worst ever day,” Ferguson said. “It’s the worst result in my history, ever. Even as a player I don’t think I ever lost 6-1.”

He added: “You have to recover. The history of Manchester United is ‘another day’ and we will recover. That kind of defeat will make an impact on the players.”

One wouldn’t expect anything less of Ferguson’s players. But the reality is City now has a five-point league lead over United. Even though the season is still young, United could be chasing blue shirts from now until next May.

Those like European soccer boss Michel Platini who argue the massive deficit spending by clubs like City is a mortal danger to the sport’s status quo and overall good health could point to this result, nod wisely, and feel vindicated. City fans could retort that United was long overdue to be knocked off its pedestal. Singing their hearts out in United’s ground, they didn’t care that this win was bought as much as it was earned.

But being able to purchase some of the world’s best players as easily as a kid in a sweet shop is only part of why City is becoming so strong. A lot of the credit goes to Mancini, who is making his big name and big ego stars play and work together as a team. He could have come to Old Trafford looking for a draw, played it safe. Instead, he fielded an attacking lineup with both Balotelli and Sergio Aguero up front. Mancini said studying video of United had shown him that Ferguson’s team this season often concedes opportunities to score.

United, vulnerable.

Those are not words that have been used often together in recent years.

That could be about to change.


John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at) or follow him at