Early Doors

Stupid Mario bother

Early Doors

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"He can become as good as he wants. Everything is in place except the self-discipline. He is a skilful player, a strong player; he just needs to learn the self-discipline that is so important in achieving results."

The words of former Italy U21 coach Gianfranco Zola on Mario Balotelli - in an interview which can be read in full here - couldn't be more apposite following Manchester City's Europa League exit.

Liverpool and Rangers both also crashed out of Europe's secondary cup competition at the last-16 stage on Thursday night, with the Reds' hopes of continental football next season all but gone and the people of Dublin breathing a sigh of relief that the Gers' blue army won't be descending upon the Irish capital en masse.

However, it is Balotelli's red card against Dynamo Kiev which catches the eye as strongly as the Italian's studs caught Goran Popov in the chest and thigh.

His manager Roberto Mancini was at his wit's end after his team failed to overturn the 2-0 aggregate lead Dynamo brought with them from Ukraine - and he was not coy in pointing out where the blame lies.

"If it stays 11 versus 11, we would have probably scored two or three goals," Mancini said.

"I didn't see the foul properly but I am very disappointed because in a game like this it is very difficult if you pick up a red card - and you can pick up a red card for doing something stupid.

"The problem for Mario is that he thinks he could be a fantastic player. But when he does something stupid like that, it is difficult for me, difficult for him and difficult for the team."

The result does not bode well for Mancini's claim that City are close to ending their 35-year wait for major silverware. When it comes to the crunch and City simply have to win against quality opposition, all too often they seem incapable of taking charge of a game.

Dynamo proved their worth, no doubt about that, and their first-leg win showed that the Donbass Arena is not the only stadium in Ukraine that continental opponents dread visiting. However, the City board will have expected much more from the nigh-on £250 million-worth of talent fidgeting around Eastlands last night.

Champions League football is of course the priority for City this season, and they can take a huge step towards securing that if they continue their recent hold over Chelsea on Sunday.

Mancini is unlikely to let Balotelli off the leash at Stamford Bridge ("I don't think he will be in the squad"), meaning that the volatile Italian has not only cost City a shot at a trophy, but also limits his side's options in a match vital towards achieving their main goal for the campaign.

Still, not all of the blame can be laid at Balotelli's feet. If City are to make it past local rivals Manchester United in their upcoming FA Cup semi-final then all involved need to rediscover their ambition, because it is a commodity currently in short supply.

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With all three British clubs out of the Europa League, Thursday nights are free again. Early Doors for one is grateful that the obligation for watching the games has been lifted, freeing up time to increase its viewing pleasure with such gems as Relocation, Relocation and Monroe, the medical drama which is in no way a clone of House, no sir, not at all.

It also allows us all to fully concentrate our energy on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, which will soon be delivering unto us the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Premier League clubs Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham will all be in the hat when the draw is made in Nyon at 11am today.

Joining that trio will be firm favourites Barcelona, Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, defending champions Internazionale, domestically-struggling Schalke and 2009 UEFA Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk.

You can follow live coverage of the draw as it happens right here, plus updates on all the mutual back-scratching and the generous buffet selection at UEFA HQ from 10am.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It's very flattering but I'm quite happy doing what I'm doing at the moment. Sometimes, when a job becomes vacant then people look around to see whether there are any connections in terms of past playing careers or whatever. I think there's no more in it than that." - Fulham manager Mark Hughes correctly accuses the media of adding two plus two and getting five by linking him to the vacancy at former club Bayern Munich. Seeing as the job has all but gone to Bayer Leverkusen boss Jupp Heynckes anyway, it was always going to be a non-starter. But then, when did that ever stop anyone?

FOREIGN VIEW: "I cannot imagine that. That is the worst that can happen. I think it is better if you don't play in it at all. Even winning the Europa League would not mean anything for me. That is not the title you want to win and it is not something I want." - Arjen Robben doesn't much fancy taking his talents to Aris Salonika next season.

COMING UP: Team news, match facts and video previews for all the weekend's Premier League fixtures are coming up, plus team news for all of the other major leagues. Paul Parker and Jim White will be giving their latest views on the issues that matter, while The Fantasist will be hosting the latest webchat on all things Yahoo! Fantasy Football.

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