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Tevez looked determined to prove his worth against United, his former team that opted not to keep him. The Argentina striker’s energy, industry and understanding in attack with Sergio Aguero were such that one had to wonder why Mancini hadn’t started with Tevez, instead of Balotelli. If all the Abu Dhabi wealth pumped into City does not yield a repeat league title this season, it will be partly because of perplexing decisions like these from Mancini.

One also wonders whether the Italian’s patience will now run out with Balotelli, who was so impressive 13 months ago when City thrashed United 6-1 but so lackadaisical Sunday.

Cruise, who said this was his first soccer match in England, must have noticed it and only with eyes wide shut could Mancini now fail to see it, too: Balotelli is no longer earning his considerable crust at City.

“When you have a player that has Mario’s quality, you cannot understand why he continues to throw it out of the window. It is incredible,” Mancini said. “I have seen players in my life with fantastic quality. But in the end, they did nothing. I don’t want Mario to finish like these players.”

Leading the league approaching midpoint in the season is no guarantee United will win it come May. Still, being the team that ended City’s run of 37 league games unbeaten at home at the Etihad Stadium is a big boost for United. That it was United that snapped that streak will particularly sting for City and its fans. The red-blue divide cuts through Manchester _ families and friendships _ so defeats to the cross-town rival hit particularly close to home.

It is too early to be sure that the pendulum that swung from United, the 2011 champion, to City in 2012 is now swinging back to Old Trafford. Still, it was United that ended Arsenal’s 49-match unbeaten streak in 2004 and Chelsea’s 40-game unbeaten league run in 2005. Both those teams challenged United’s dominance for a while before Ferguson beat them back down _ as he now intends to do to City.

With Van Persie, Ferguson has the tool to quiet his noisy neighbor down.


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