Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrat

Mario Balotelli to Milan: Where whimsy may finally meet greatness

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Mario is leaving Manchester, if AC Milan’s to be believed. The whimsical Manchester City striker, brought to Eastlands two and a half years ago, is on his way to Milan ahead of a Wednesday physical. If passed, the exam will be the last step before a return home. For a $31.5 million fee (that could climb after performances bonuses), the Rossoneri will get the 22-year-old Italian international on a deal that’s said to run until 2017.

One of the most talented strikers in the world, Balotelli gave the world a glimpse of his game-defining potential with two Euro 2012 semifinal goals that led Italy to an upset victory of pre-tournament co-favorites Germany. In 75 appearances for Manchester City, the versatile striker has scored 30 all-competition goals, including 17 in 35 games last season. Bought from Inter Milan for $30 million in the summer of 2010, Balotelli has been a productive if mercurial presence for the English champions.

(MORE: Mario Balotelli’s top moments of madness)

It’s a label Balotelli’s earned off the field and on, his three years in Manchester having affirmed one of the more notorious reputations in world soccer. While most who’ve covered him closely describe a mischievous and mostly harmless character, the list of high-profile incidents linked to Sicily-born attacker have endowed him with a comical fame. Perhaps the most emblematic incident came in October 2011 when Balotelli set his house on fire after igniting fireworks in a bathroom. In a game the next day, Balotelli celebrated a goal by lifting his jersey to reveal a t-shirt which read “why always me?” – a reference to the media attention he attracts. Balotelli later became a firework safety ambassador for Great Manchester.

source:  Among other famous anecdotes, Balotelli crashed a car soon after his Manchester arrival only to be found with near-$8,000 in cash on him when police came to investigate the incident. He was photographed in the company of Mafia members during his first spell in Italy, and out of curiosity, he has made unsolicited visits to prisons. Closer to the field, Balotelli’s immense talents have been mitigated by confrontations with coaches, brow-furrowing behavior like the ball heel shot that saw him pulled from a preseason game in Los Angeles, and a series of training ground fights with teammates, including captain Vincent Kompany.

Amid whimsy and volatility is a player who possesses an elite array of talents – the type of gifts that lead clubs like City and Milan to pay transfer fees that would be the records for near-every club in the world. His supreme technical skills endow him with an enviable first touch, one which, combined with his 6’2″ frame, allows him to play as a target forward. But his speed and athleticism have seen him spend time in wide positions, with a brilliant ball-striking ability making him a threat from distance in open play as well as from dead balls. There is a reason why people like Italy coach Cesare Prandelli and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini continue to find room in their teams for “Super Mario.”

His tendency to constantly defy his antics and win back playing time is something that’s frustrated critics who decry Balotelli’s fickle antics. Having already put in five-and-a-half seasons between Internazionale and City, many understandably see the talented striker as a seasoned if still maturing player. How many 22-year-olds are professional soccer players? (A lot.) And how many leverage their talent for such selfish pursuits? (One.) Well-compensated by the deal that took him to Manchester, it’s not unfair for onlookers — particularly, City fans — to expect more from somebody for whom greatness is only a mental tweak away.

source: Getty ImagesIt bears reminding that not all 22-year-olds are created the same. Balotelli’s past is one of relative turmoil. An impoverished family of Ghanian immigrants burdened by medical bills from Balotelli’s early childhood health problems gave him up to foster care when he was two years old. The biological family eventually faded out of his life, leaving a Sicilian-born foster child of African descent to be raised by a Jewish-Italian foster family in Brescia. For many familiar with Balotelli’s story, the player’s personality reflects a type of extended adolescence born of early childhood uncertainties.

Now Balotelli is Massimiliano Allegri’s pleasure and problem – the newest piece of what could be an incredibly dynamic if but maturing attack. Twenty-year-old Stephan El Shaarawy has been the Italian season’s breakout star, his 15 goals from mostly a wide-left position trailing only Napoli’s Edinson Cavani for the league’s lead. On the right, 18-year-old M’Baye Niang has seen more time of late, though the summer acquisition from Caen has yet to notch his first Serie A goal. Together, the trio gives Allegri a collection of players who will be among the most fearsome one-on-one talents in the league, their speed and athleticism allowing the Rossoneri to attack with defense-collapsing talents from all angles.

In reality, a player like Bojan Krkic will likely need to be mixed in to provide a more creative presence in possession. And Milan also have Giampaolo Pazzini and (for now) Robinho in the squad. For a team the cleared their shelves of talent this offseason, Milan suddenly have an enviable collection of quality attackers, even if the best of them are still 22 or younger.

All of them are going to be overshadowed by Balotelli now. Having transcended pop curiosity to semi-national hero this summer, Balotelli becomes the preeminent figure in the team, if not the league. If Allegri gets more out of a player who’s rejoining the club he supported in his youth, $31.5 million will prove a reasonable price for somebody so talented. And it’s a move that always seemed inevitable when

Whether this move sees Balotelli fulfill his potential, well, that’s not up to Allegri. When Mario decides to be great, he’ll be great.

VIDEO: Watch Vardy’s stunning hat trick as Leicester beat Man City

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Ah, there you are Jamie Vardy. Good to have you back, and the old Leicester City, too.

Vardy, 29, had not scored in his last 16 matches for Leicester in all competitions going in to this weekend…

On Saturday Vardy scored a hat trick to lead reigning Premier League champions Leicester to a 4-2 demolition of Manchester City which gives Claudio Ranieri‘s side some breathing space from the relegation zone.

[ MORE: Leicester hammer Man City ]

The Foxes — who had one just one of their last nine games in the PL leading up to this game — raced into a 4-0 lead (Leicester was 3-0 up inside the first 20 minutes) and although City scored twice late on the scoreline doesn’t reflect Leicester’s dominance against Pep Guardiola‘s side who were all over the place in defense.

Click play on the video above to watch Vardy’s hat trick as the English striker only had two goals all season going into this game. Now he has five, and his partnership with Riyad Mahrez is finally showing signs of reigniting this season.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

The Vardy, and Leicester, we all fell in love with last season was back with a bang on Saturday. It took 15 weeks of the Premier League season.

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern back on top; Leipzig no longer unbeaten

Bayern's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and VfL Wolfsburg at the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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The odds said a RB Leipzig hiccup was coming, and Bayern Munich took full advantage of its good fortune on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Bayern Munich 5-0 Wolfsburg

Thomas Muller finally scored his first goal of the Bundesliga season, the fourth marker in an out-and-out thumping of Wolfsburg (What’s become of them?!?). Robert Lewandowski netted a brace for the second-straight outing, while Arjen Robben and Douglas Costa also scored in the win.

Ingolstadt 1-0 RB Leipzig

The visitors were dominant, holding Ingolstadt to just 83 passes, but a 12th minute Roger goal was enough to send RB Leipzig to its first loss of the season. Their record is now level with Bayern at 10W-3D-1L, and Leipzig has scored 8 less goals than the table-topping Bavarians.

Koln 1-1 Borussia Dortmund

The hosts looked set to keep pace with the leaders via an Artjoms Rudnevs’ 28th minute goal, but Marco Reus netted a 90th minute equalizer to help BVB to its share of the spoils.

Elsewhere
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-0 Hoffenheim — Friday
Freiburg 1-0 Darmstadt — Nils Petersen with lone goal
Hamburg 1-0 Augsburg — Hosts win despite first half red card
Hertha Berlin 0-1 Werder Bremen — Max Kruse scores
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Mainz — 9:30 a.m. EDT Sunday
Schalke vs. Bayer Leverkusen — 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 14 10 3 1 34 9 25 6-2-0 4-1-1 33
 RB Leipzig 14 10 3 1 29 12 17 5-1-0 5-2-1 33
 Hertha BSC Berlin 14 8 3 3 22 14 8 6-0-1 2-3-2 27
 1899 Hoffenheim 14 6 8 0 25 14 11 4-3-0 2-5-0 26
 Eintracht Frankfurt 14 7 5 2 19 11 8 4-3-0 3-2-2 26
 Borussia Dortmund 14 7 4 3 32 16 16 5-2-0 2-2-3 25
 1. FC Köln 14 6 5 3 19 13 6 4-3-0 2-2-3 23
 SC Freiburg 14 6 1 7 18 25 -7 5-0-2 1-1-5 19
 FC Schalke 04 13 5 2 6 18 15 3 4-0-2 1-2-4 17
 Bayer Leverkusen 13 5 2 6 20 21 -1 3-2-2 2-0-4 17
 FSV Mainz 05 13 5 2 6 23 25 -2 3-1-2 2-1-4 17
 FC Augsburg 14 3 5 6 11 16 -5 1-3-3 2-2-3 14
 Werder Bremen 14 4 2 8 18 32 -14 3-0-4 1-2-4 14
 Mönchengladbach 13 3 4 6 13 22 -9 3-3-1 0-1-5 13
 VfL Wolfsburg 14 2 4 8 12 23 -11 0-2-5 2-2-3 10
 Hamburger SV 14 2 4 8 11 27 -16 1-2-4 1-2-4 10
 FC Ingolstadt 04 14 2 3 9 11 24 -13 1-2-4 1-1-5 9
 Darmstadt 14 2 2 10 11 27 -16 2-2-3 0-0-7 8

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Leicester City 4-2 Manchester City: Vardy deconstructs Pep’s men

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 10: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his sides third goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at the King Power Stadium on December 10, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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  • Foxes up 2-0 by 5′
  • Vardy hat trick
  • Kolarov scores free kick
  • WATCH: First three goals

Jamie Vardy‘s hat trick led Leicester City to a surprising 4-2 win over visiting Manchester City on Saturday at the King Power Stadium.

Andy King scored in the first half, where Vardy scooped his first two of the day before adding a third in the 78th minute. Aleksandar Kolarov‘s 81st minute free kick dirtied the clean sheet, and Nolito redirected one home in the 90th minute.

Man City will finish the weekend at least four points back of the top, and currently sit in fourth with 30 points. Leicester rises rises to 14th on 16 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester City was in a horrible spot in two blinks, as Vardy and Islam Slimani took advantage of John Stones and Aleksandar Kolarov before the latter beat Claudio Bravo to make it 1-0 in the third minute.

Less than two minutes later, it was time for another. Andy King let loose with a shot from outside the 18 that a flying Bravo could only touch into his goal. 2-0 at the King Power. Scenes.

And Leicester saved its best for the third goal, as Riyad Mahrez made an otherworldly first touch assist on a diagonal ball over Stones’ head, and Vardy touched around Bravo to score it. Wow.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Guardiola doubled down on risk-taking tactics as the second half wore on. And why not? He was down 3-0.

On came Yaya Toure and Raheem Sterling. Out went Kelechi Iheanacho and Jesus Navas. Yes, Yaya Toure as striker.

Yet it was Vardy who scored next, taking advantage of an out-to-lunch Stones to inch a tight-angled shot off the post and just over the line via Goal Decision System.

Kolarov made it 4-1 with a terrific free kick that curled to nestle inside the post behind the wall, then found Nolito for a goal in the final minute of scheduled time.

Matty James came into the match during stoppage time for his 100th Leicester experience, which came 570 days after an ACL tear ended his 99th.

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Reports: Guzan headed to Atlanta, Jermaine Jones talking with LA

COMMERCE CITY, CO - MARCH 22:  The starting lineup of the United States national team, including Clint Dempsey, Brad Guzan, Graham Zusi, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Omar Gonzalez, Herculez Gomez, and Jermaine Jones stand for a team photo before a FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier match between Costa Rica and United States at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on March 22, 2013 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
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Two USMNT veterans could have new MLS homes soon.

Jermaine Jones gambled on a one-year deal with Colorado in order to test the free agent market, and ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle is reporting that the man may find a match — in so many ways — in the City of Los Angeles.

Galaxy president Chris Klein told Carlisle that the two sides had a meeting regarding a potential fit in LA. Jones has helped change the fortunes of both New England and Colorado, and may welcome the need to fit in rather than revolutionize a club.

[ WATCH: Jamie Vardy torturing Man City ]

Meanwhile, Taylor Twellman says that Atlanta United is getting a goalie with U.S. national team experience, and isn’t talking about reports linking Sean Johnson to a Georgia trade.

Brad Guzan, 32, is said to be close to move to Atlanta United from Middlesbrough after the calendar turns to 2017.

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