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.

Conte revels in Chelsea intensity in controlling win at Hull City

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Hull City and Chelsea at KCOM Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The intensity from Chelsea’s players in their 2-0 victory at Hull City was a sight for Antonio Conte‘s sore eyes.

Actually, that might be understating it.

“I like it when the team plays in this way,” Conte said after the win. “I like it so much.”

[ MORE: Hull City 0-2 Chelsea ]

The Blues controlled the match at the KC Stadium long before Willian and Diego Costa hit bullets past a helpless David Marshall to seal Chelsea’s 11th, 12th, and 13th points of the young Premier League season.

Conte loved the industry from his club in breaking a three-match losing streak.

From the BBC:

“We are working very hard and I am sure we can improve a lot if we continue to work in this way. I am pleased for all the players because in these situations because we have a clean sheet. In previous games we conceded too many goals. To finish with a clean sheet is very important. We also scored two and the performance is good. We must follow this with work, work, work!”

“We can improve and we must improve a lot and continue to work. After these two defeats it’s not easy to work because two defeats for Chelsea are heavy defeats. But this was a good answer.”

Yeah… he’s pretty intense.

Adrian, Bilic praise Messi-like equalizer from “pure magic” Payet

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet, left, and Middlesbrough’s Marten de Roon challenge for the ball during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Middlesbrough at The London Stadium  in London, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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To hear West Ham goalkeeper Adrian describe it, the Irons should start streaming their training sessions so we can see more magic from Dimitri Payet.

West Ham’s talisman rescued a point for his struggling club when he essentially worked six Middlesbrough players and delivered a terrific finish in a 1-1 draw at Olympic Stadium in London.

[ WATCH: Payet’s wondergoal ]

Adrian says they see that a lot.

“Payet is like that in training,” the goalkeeper said. “He scored like a Lionel Messi goal at Barcelona. It is a massive goal to us.”

[ MORE: West Ham 1-1 Middlesbrough ]

The goal truly was massive, as the Irons avoided losing five in-a-row. They are still in the relegation zone, but baby steps.

Here’s WHUFC head coach Slaven Bilic:

“It was an unbelievable goal, it was a pure magic. It was only a shame it wasn’t a winning goal. We needed that moment of class from our best player to lift the whole team up.”

Sunderland: Moyes disappointed with Defoe miss in draw vs Baggies

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: David Moyes, Manager of Sunderland reacts during the Premier League match between Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion at Stadium of Light on October 1, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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One of the few bright spots for Sunderland last season was Jermain Defoe, and he has four goals this season through seven starts.

But the English striker missed a chance that could’ve given the Black Cats a much-needed lead in a match they wound up drawing 1-1 with West Brom at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

[ MORE: Sunderland 1-1 West Brom ]

Sunderland manager David Moyes is frustrated, obviously, with his club gained just two points from their first seven matches.

But pointing in the direction of the man who has four of your six PL goals on the season is a bit… odd, especially when Defoe is being mentioned as a possible England call-up.

From the BBC:

We didn’t get the three points. We didn’t deserve to be 1-0 down. We had a great chance through Jermain Defoe – expected him to score. We’re pleased we got a point out of it.

…”There was bits of play that got us a chance. Jonny Evans made a good block from Jermain Defoe.

“We need Jermain to score more, although he has got us goals.”

Troubling times in the Northeast, where the Black Cats are again off to a downright horrible start to the season. Eventually, one of these is going to break them.

Watford 2-2 Bournemouth: Thriller sees Cherries pegged back

WATFORD, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 01: Troy Deeney of Watford scores his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Watford and AFC Bournemouth at Vicarage Road on October 1, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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  • Wilson, King twice gave Cherries lead
  • Deeney, Success equalized
  • Wilshere hit post twice, Stanislas hit bar
  • Both teams on eight points

Watford and Bournemouth shared the points at Vicarage Road in a thrilling 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Bournemouth twice took the lead through Callum Wilson and Josh King but Watford equalizes through Troy Deeney and Issac Success. The Cherries went agonizingly close to taking all three points as Jack Wilshere hit the post twice (his second attempt a contender for miss of the season) and Junior Stanislas hit the crossbar.

With the point both teams move to eight points for the season but there’s no doubting Walter Mazzarri will be happier than Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Watford started well with Odion Ighalo going close and Troy Deeney had a shot blocked with the home side looking to get back to winning ways. Bournemouth recovered and went close via Junior Stanislas’ free kick which forced Heurelho Gomes to tip over the bar.

Bournemouth took the lead as Stanislas whipped in a great cross from the right which Wilson nodded home and under Gomes. 1-0 to the Cherries.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Watford went close to equalizing before half time but Artur Boruc saved twice from Nordin Amrabat from close range and then Wilson cut inside and teed up Andrew Surman but he fired over from a great position.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Watford were level within five minutes of the restart as Amrabat dribbled in from the right and teed up Deeney to make it 1-1.

Moments later Bournemouth almost went ahead as Jack Wilshere danced through the Watford defense but his low effort hit the post and came out. At the other end Amrabat again provided a great cross which found Deeney but his header was superbly clawed away by Boruc.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Substitute King then came onto the pitch, beat Amrabat and ran at Watford’s defense before seeing his shot from outside the box deflect in. 2-1 to Bournemouth.

The Cherries’ lead didn’t last for long as a free kick from the left flank found Success at the near post and he flicked home into the far corner. 2-2.

Wilshere missed a glorious chance to put Bournemouth ahead as Smith drilled a great cross in from the right and from six yards out he somehow hit the post. Bournemouth continued to push forward and came agonizingly close to grabbing all three points but Stanislas’ curling free kick bounced off the crossbar and out.