|A frustrated Roberto Mancini, watching on as his side fail to score for the third consecutive home game|
When writing the match report from Wednesday’s Manchester derby, the words ‘nothing happened’ would definitely have sufficed. Fast forward three days and those two words sum up today’s game between Manchester City and Birmingham. It was a drab match in which Man City had the better of the chances, yet with all their hard work they failed to capitalise on a Birmingham side in poor form and short of confidence.
‘Confidence’ is a word which surrounds Roberto Mancini and his Man City side at this present time although it is preceded by the words ‘lacking in’. The Blues have failed to score in three consecutive home games, a run which certainly has not escaped the attention of the crowd. The City players left the field to a chorus of undeserved boos at half-time, although, some may have been directed towards the match officials who controversially disallowed a Carlos Tevez goal minutes from the interval, a decision which proved to be correct. Within a minute of the restart, James Milner thought he’d put City ahead only to see his first attempt blocked by the excellent Foster, and his second effort hacked off the line by Stephen Carr. From then on the game began to peter out as City tried to work an opening. As the clock approached the eightieth minute and City desperate to snatch a late goal, Mancini made a substitution which baffled the Blues’ faithful, replacing captain Tevez with midfielder Gareth Barry. The talismanic Argentinian striker has been the Blues’ best player this season and the crowd vehemently booed the decision to withdraw him ten minutes from time. Desperate to put pressure on title contenders Chelsea and Manchester United, City, in need of three points, ended the game with five midfielders and Roque Santa Cruz as lone striker. Santa Cruz incidentally, had featured once prior to today’s game (the Carling Cup loss against West Brom).
The old cliché of ‘a week is a long time in football’ rings true based on today’s events. The fans who chanted Mancini’s name at the end of the West Brom game last week were today booing and calling for his head after a draw which still leaves City fourth in the Barclays Premier League after thirteen games. Football fans are notoriously fickle and at a club like Manchester City, whose new found riches have escalated expectations, said fans seem to be emerging from the cracks. What Roberto Mancini needs at this moment in time is the support of every City fan and importantly the support of Garry Cook, Brian Marwood, Khaldoon Al-Mubarak and the Sheikh himself. Manchester United fans constantly mock their neighbour’s thirty-four year trophy drought, and if City don’t stop their culture of chopping and changing managers then it will be a lot longer than thirty-four years since their last major trophy.
HARD TO BEAT
Mancini, in his eleven months at City, has tightened up a defence that was leaking goals left, right and centre under his predecessor Mark Hughes. He has made City a difficult side to beat, especially at home. Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United have all failed in their attempts to beat City this season, and the Blues were unlucky to lose against Arsenal after being reduced to ten men in the opening five minutes. The Arsenal game, in which the final score was 3-0, has proved to be one of their better performances of the season. Despite what on the surface appears to be an onslaught the Blues played with no fear and were unfortunate to lose so heavily. City don’t concede like they used to under Hughes, but they don’t score like they used to under Hughes. Mancini’s Italian-style football has lead to much criticism from fans and commentators.
Some describe it as ‘negative’, others ‘cautious’, and others ‘boring’, whichever bracket you come under, watching Manchester City is, at times, less interesting than watching paint dry. Mancini’s stubbornness to continue playing two defensive midfielders each game is arguably costing City important points. Add to that his reluctance to start rising star Adam Johnson has resulted in widespread criticism from all avenues – from media to his own supporters. The signing of Yaya Toure from Barcelona has caused mass hysteria from fans and pundits alike. When they had a player in Nigel de Jong who is twice as good (and on significantly less wages), the question of the necessity of buying Toure has arisen. It’s apparent from his seemingly disinterested approach on the pitch that Toure sees joining City from Barcelona as a step-down. He is indeed correct, it is a step down and even the most hardcore of City fans would have to admit that as the truth. Toure however, should at least attempt to earn his ludicrous wages by performing to the high standards he set at Barcelona. Mancini needs to act tougher on his slacking star and demand a higher performance level.
When Mancini has all his players fit and injury/suspension free, he needs to find the balance between a strong and organised defence and a creative, free scoring front line. When City are good, they’re very good and they look like a side capable of challenging the likes of Chelsea and United for the title. But when they are bad, they are horrendously bad. Mancini needs to be given more time at City, eleven months isn’t a sufficient amount to transform a top six side into a top four side. Given the fact that Jose Mourinho is unavailable Mancini will get the time that he needs and deserves. City are not far away, but Mancini needs to find the right balance sooner rather than later. As shown last Christmas, City’s board can be ruthless and Mancini will feel the heat if results and performances don’t pick up. If by January there has been no improvement, City may look for a stop-gap until Mourinho becomes available. There is no doubt about it, his name will not go away until either Mancini wins a trophy with City or Mourinho joins United. The long-suffering City fans will be hoping for the former rather than the latter.