Manchester City may have left Goodison Park with a feeling of injustice but the problems lay deeper than a refereeing error. Sure, Marouane Fellaini’s handball should have been awarded as a penalty and should City have scored they may have gone on to win the game – or at least gain a point. The situation, however, is hypothetical and in reality the Blues got exactly what they deserved.
Everton had a point to prove although they never need firing up to play Manchester City. A shambolic defeat in the FA Cup last week against Wigan ended all hopes of a trophy, in a competition deemed as winnable, as David Moyes approaches the end of his 11th year in charge of the club.
For City though, sitting 15 points behind Manchester United, it was a chance to show that they had what it takes to claw the title back. They didn’t. City fans often sing about fighting ‘til the end, following the heroics of last season, but the 11 boys masquerading as men at Goodison Park showed no sign of that famous spirit.
The cliché of modern Premier League football is whether a player can ‘perform on a rainy day in Stoke?’ It should be changed to can they ‘perform on a rainy day in Merseyside?’ It is clear Manchester City cannot.
Roberto Mancini’s future is in doubt and there are many who remain unconvinced that he will be at the helm next season. All is not lost for the Blues, who have the FA Cup semi-final to look forward to in four weeks time. Indeed, if it is City’s name on the trophy as it was two seasons ago then a second placed finish and the FA Cup may spare the Italian.
But performances like the one at Everton will not help his cause and tactical changes that could have made a difference were enforced far too late. It was evident from the opening ten minutes that Edin Dzeko was set to be little more than a passenger for the Blues. Worryingly he was not the only one. When Steven Pienaar was correctly sent off for two yellow cards, City should have taken the game to Everton. Real Madrid managed to do just that against Manchester United at Old Trafford two weeks ago, but the Blues were incapable.
Despite a 15 point deficit on neighbours United, some City fans remain optimistic that they can retain their title, looking back to last season as inspiration. It won’t happen. They can’t witness performances like the one at Everton and then re-watch Sergio Aguero’s goal against QPR and expect lightning to strike twice. The season is over and the best thing the Blues can hope for is the FA Cup and second place.
Over the course of 38 games last season, City deserved to win the title. They were the better side for the majority of the campaign and made history. This year they have not and that is why the trophy is returning to Old Trafford.
If ever there were to be a prize awarded to a club for “doing things the hard way” it would almost inevitably be handed to soap-opera club Manchester City.
They are a side that leave it until the last five minutes to take a play-off final to extra time and then penalties. They are a side that leave it until the last three minutes of the season to clinch their first ever Premier League title.
They are Manchester City, and they do it the hard way.
Defeat in the final minutes to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and defeat at the Amsterdam ArenA – the home of Dutch champions Ajax – has left Manchester City with an almost impossible task of qualifying for the second round of the Champions League. Manager Roberto Mancini has described their plight as in dire need of a ‘miracle’. Manchester City are in the mire, and they only have themselves to blame.
Expectations have soared to a whole new level following Sergio Aguero’s last gasp winner against QPR last season that sent Manchester City fans into absolute ecstasy. They were going to spend further in the summer, strengthen a squad that was already brimming with talent and steamroll their way to the top like the juggernaut they want to become.
Reality struck. Financial Fair Play rules – whether they will ever be introduced or not is a different debate – prevented City from splashing the Sheikh’s cash on the “top names” Mancini wanted. The likes of Daniele De Rossi opted to stay at Roma, rather than join City. Things didn’t go exactly as Mancini wanted, leaving him frustrated.
Despite a subdued transfer window, City remain unbeaten in the Premier League but even whilst it is not their main priority this season, their Champions League form has been particularly woeful.
It is testament to the quality of their opposition in the Champions League that Joe Hart has been the Blues’ best player over the three games played. The England international has established himself as one of the very best around over the course of the campaign and his sensational form has kept City alive in the competition.
Against Real Madrid, City put up a good effort. Taking the lead twice and relying on Hart they were doing well until a tactical change saw them change to three at the back. It was a change that played into the hands of Madrid, allowing them to push on and win the game. Cristiano Ronaldo exploited the space and the rest, as they say, is history.
At the Etihad Stadium, there was optimism. After all, City had gone to the Bernabeu and were five minutes away from getting a famous result. The Blues would surely be able to rise to the challenge of Borussia Dortmund. They weren’t.
Having taken a point from their three games so far in the group stages, City are clinging on by the skin of their teeth. They’re in that position because they deserve to be there. The performances haven’t been good enough to qualify for the second round. Their performances haven’t even been good enough for them to be worthy of qualifying for the Europa League. And the only man you sympathise with is Hart, because if there is one player deserving to go further on in the competition it is him. Nobody else has performed.
Three wins from three could see them claw their way through. It’s unlikely, but if any club can do it you’d put your money on it being City.
When the final whistle blows at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday May 13th an inquest will begin, regardless of whether Manchester City will have been crowned champions or not. With seven games remaining and a five point gap between them and league leaders Manchester United it seems an unlikely task. The optimists in the blue half of Manchester will claim that with United still having to play their title rivals City at the Etihad Stadium as well as needing to visit Everton and Sunderland before the season finishes it is not all over. The more pessimistic blues will admit that the title seems likely to head back to Old Trafford.
If Manchester City do fail in their pursuit of the Premier League title then there can be only one man to blame. Roberto Mancini’s side seem to have fallen at the last hurdle and are stumbling towards the finish line. There is time to rectify it but it is now out of their hands and that is where the inquest will begin. Having dominated the league for the majority of the season and seen a healthy goal advantage slip away questions will be asked of Mancini by the City hierarchy. The recent slump has happened at the worst possible time and has left many questioning whether City had the nerve and experience to stay the distance.
It is not just the stuttering league form that has raised eyebrows in the boardroom however; Mancini’s handling of internal difficulties such as the Carlos Tévez situation and his persistence in standing by Mario Balotelli are also causing problems.
When the young Italian eventually matures he may become a world class player but at the moment his talent remains described as ‘potential’. He has shown glimpses of his incredible skill on a number of occasions this season yet his general demeanour both on and off the pitch overshadows that. Whether he is setting his house ablaze with fireworks or driving around Manchester city centre in his Bentley handing out £20 notes, the Blues’ enigmatic striker is certainly favoured by Mancini. It is this favouritism though which could cost Mancini his job. On the one hand it is admirable that the manager has such faith in Balotelli yet, on the other, it could be seen as blind loyalty and one which is not benefiting the club.
Sir Alex Ferguson called it “desperation” but City saw it as moving on and making the best out of a bad situation. Carlos Tévez’ return to Manchester has received a mixed reaction. Some are willing to accept his apology, draw a line in the sand and move on – after all he is a wonderful footballer. Others however, cannot accept his apology and do not want him near the club. It was a fine balancing act for Mancini, a chance to show that nobody, despite their immense talent, is bigger than the club. He got it wrong.
Back in November it was clear that Mancini did not want Tévez to play for him ever again. He had disgraced himself, embarrassed the club and the manager but more importantly shown a complete lack of respect to everybody associated to Manchester City by refusing to come on as a substitute. The response from the team was sensational Premier League form and a prolonged spell at the top of the table. The response from Tévez was a five month holiday in Argentina and a refusal to apologise. It could have been so much easier if he had apologised straight away. Having said that, knowing Tévez, it probably took him those five months to learn how to say the word ‘sorry’ in English.
Despite this City have improved once again under Mancini, and although it is likely they will finish trophy less it is another step in the right direction. He deserves another season to continue building a side which is capable of staying the distance and progressing further in Europe but it remains to be seen if he will get it. With Jose Mourinho’s name being touted as a possible replacement there may be another managerial change at the Etihad Stadium.
Although unlucky with the injury and suspension of club captain Vincent Kompany at key points during the title challenge, Mancini has to take the blame for the demise of City’s season. To have such a healthy league position at the half way stage and to now be trailing United by five points is inexcusable. At times this season Mancini has had a cool exterior, yet at others he seems to be feeling the pressure. His failure to shake Tony Pulis’ hand at the Britannia Stadium a few weeks ago and subsequent refusal to speak to the media was not only undignified and unsporting, but also a sign that he was maybe cracking up. After all, Stoke City played as expected. They were strong, aggressive and difficult to beat.
It has been apparent for weeks that City’s maestro David Silva is either carrying an injury, fatigued or has just hit a bad run of form yet Mancini’s persistence in playing him is highlighting a problem within his team. With Samir Nasri not hitting the heights that many expected him to, Silva has been the main playmaker and it is finally taking its toll on the Spanish wizard. The Blues’ over reliance on Silva being the creative force indicates that Mancini is still not satisfied with the squad he has. He lacks quality wingers to change his team’s style of play and the lack of width has been identified as a major problem in recent weeks. Despite the charging runs of the likes of Gael Clichy and Micah Richards, width is a concern especially following the disappointing performances of Adam Johnson and Nasri over the season. With rumours suggesting City are lining up a move for Eden Hazard, expect Johnson to be sold in the summer with Liverpool a possible destination. They have a habit of overpaying for players who flatter to deceive.
With millions having been ploughed into the club, the Abu Dhabi based owners are looking for a return on their investment. It remains to be seen if they have the patience to acknowledge that despite a potentially disappointing end to the season Mancini has improved the side. There will be departures and arrivals in the summer that much is clear, but whether Roberto Mancini will be one of the departures only the Sheikh knows.
Will Mancini be the manager next season? Do you want him to stay? Leave your comments below.
Manchester City’s title hopes were dealt a massive blow as a late winner from Swansea super-sub Luke Moore saw the Welsh side take all three points at the Liberty Stadium. The striker had been on the field for only a matter of minutes before a poorly defended cross from the impressive Wayne Routledge was headed past Joe Hart in the 82nd minute. Cue pandemonium in the stands both in Wales and at Old Trafford.
After a 2-0 victory against West Brom, Manchester United headed to the top of the Barclays Premier League, a position Manchester City had held since October.
It could have been much worse for the Blues however, had Scott Sinclair managed to despatch his fifth minute penalty. After a bright start the ball was played through to Routledge who was brought down by Hart, City felt aggrieved but it was a difficult decision that referee Lee Mason decided to give to the hosts. A poor penalty from Sinclair saw Hart guess correctly and get a strong hand to prevent the Swans from going one up.
The first half was dominated by Swansea but their failure to create clear-cut goal scoring opportunities allowed City to find their way back into the game. A tactical change by Roberto Mancini shortly after the half hour mark saw Gareth Barry replaced by Sergio Aguero and it changed the game. The Blues looked livelier, kept possession better and began to get a foothold in the game.
It was much better from City in the second half but Swansea still created chances; a dangerous cross from Routledge fizzed into the box just evading Danny Graham. The Blues were living dangerously. As Yaya Toure began to control the game, City patiently began to probe but just could not quite break down the impressive Swansea defence.
With the end of the game approaching and a draw looking inevitable a quick break from Swansea saw them break City’s hearts and take the lead. It was the Blues’ man-of-the-match Yaya Toure who was caught in possession after a poor pass from defender Stefan Savic. The young Montenegrin was returning to the team alongside captain for the day Kolo Toure in the absence of the injured Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott.
As the Blues rallied for the last five minutes they thought they had snatched a late equaliser. The ball was crossed into the box and a commanding leap from Micah Richards saw him head the ball past Michel Vorm in the Swansea goal. With Richards reeling away in celebration he failed to see the assistant on the far side flagging for offside. It was a bitter pill for City to swallow, but Richards was narrowly offside.
Deep into injury time City again piled the pressure; even Hart came forward for a late free kick but to no avail. The game finished 1-0 to Swansea and City are now a point behind Manchester United with ten games remaining. The season is not yet over and it looks likely that it will all come down to the Manchester derby on Monday 30th April. Out of the two, City have the more difficult run in and if they want to win the league they must win their remaining games and perform better than they did against Swansea.
What are your side made of Roberto?
What did you make of the performance? Can Manchester City still win the league? Have your say below.