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Onion Bag: Why Always Mario Balotelli? Arsenal and Liverpool in Crisis. Tim Ream to Bolton. Messi Hat Trick.

Manchester City and Tottenham played an eventful, five-goal second half on Sunday. Guess who stole the scene? Mario Balotelli came on as a second-half substitute, giving a performance that was routine by his standards. He was the hero, both drawing and coolly converting the winning penalty to grant City a 3-2 win. He was also the goat, deliberately stomping on Spurs’ Scott Parker (referee missed it) which earned him a subsequent four-match suspension. The Italian continues to be a tragedy, wrapped in a comedy, wrapped in a farce. God bless him for it.

On Trial: The Man City result will disappoint Spurs, as it places them eight points off the top and, barring an improbable collapse by both Manchester clubs, out of the title race . Things could go further downhill for Spurs as manager Harry Redknapp began his trial today for income tax evasion. Redknapp is accused of receiving two bung payments (illicit kickbacks from transfer dealings) totaling $295,000 into his offshore bank account in Monaco to avoid paying tax on it. At best, this will be a distraction. He could be forced to wheel and deal from a courtroom, while on trial for wheeling and dealing.

Crisis Mode: Manchester United beat Arsenal 2-1. It wasn’t the shocking 8-2 scoreline from August, but it should incite a similar panic about the team’s malaise just before the end of a transfer window. It was the Gunners’ third-straight loss, leaving them five points adrift from fourth place. Failure to finish there would be the first time under Wenger Arsenal did not reach the Champions League, it would cost the club tens of millions and it would undoubtedly spell Robin Van Persie’s departure.

Even then, it’s not so much the result that will frustrate Arsenal fans but the manner of it. With the score 1-1, Arsene Wenger substituted teenage sensation Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had just set up a goal and nearly scored another, for veteran Andiry Arshavin, in a vile funk for the better part of a year. The choice inspried boos from the crowd and an exclaimed “Nooo” from Robin Van Persie. Such sentiment was vindicated when Arshavin got torched defensively just minutes later for Man U’s winning goal.

The rebuilding phase is now six years and counting. The torch bearers from the club’s next generation have already moved on to other clubs. The Arshavin substitution only inflamed the debate about whether Wenger has finally become unhinged. The defense that he does not have to justify his decisions unsurprisingly rang hallow, as did his reiteration that he was not going to supplement the squad.

Red Sox Abroad: Liverpool expected Moneyball when Fenway Sports Group took over. Instead, they’ve received late Red Sox decadence, paying great player money to sign good players and being scalded when those good players underperform. Henry and Co. have spent more than $150 million attempting to revitalize the squad, only to build one that may be more dismal than the one they inherited. This weekend’s shocking 3-1 loss to seemingly relegation-bound Bolton, a team Liverpool had beaten 10-straight times, was a comprehensive disaster.

Club legend Kenny Dalglish will, perhaps deservedly, receive a longer leash than other Liverpool managers, but any other manager in his position would have been fired. Even on its better days, the club looks looks lethargic and hamstrung. Whether it’s starting five defenders at home against Stoke or starting a squad with no defensive midfielders and getting run over against Bolton, he has found neither focus nor consistency with players he has bought. Without Suarez in the squad there’s a veritable absence of ingenuity. Liverpool are already in seventh place, six points off fourth. They are closer to the relegation zone than the table leaders. With four of their next five against Tottenham, Manchester United, Everton and Arsenal, things could get ugly.

Moving on Up: USMNT defender Tim Ream has received a British work permit on appeal, allowing a $3 million transfer to Bolton Wanderers to go through. Ream will join fellow American Stuart Holden at the club, replacing Gary Cahill, who just left for Chelsea. The 24-year-old had an uneven 2011 for the national team, but he’s the only U.S. central defender with anything resembling ball skill. With Klinsmann’s attacking style reliant on quality distribution from the defense, his emergence as a reliable starter will be crucial to U.S. success in 2014.

No Biggie: Three-time reigning Ballon D’Or winner Lionel Messi, as is his wont, scored an effortless hat trick against Malaga. For those keeping track, that’s now 28 goals and 10 assists in 24 matches in the League and Champions League. Of course, we can’t call him great until he performs in a small sample size for a poor Argentina manager…

[Photo via Getty]

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