Manchester City’s title challenge was handed a further blow last night when a late Craig Gardner penalty saw them drop 2 points at St Andrews. They go into this weekend’s games trailing leaders Manchester United by 8 points, having played 1 game more.
Ignoring the 16 league titles, 7 FA cups, 3 European cups and several smaller trophies that separate the two Premier League sides from Manchester, both United and City came into this season with title aspirations.
Big Name Signings
Following the signings of Carlos Tevez, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry and Adam Johnson amongst others last season, Manchester City failed to finish in the top 4 as Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham were all superior.
He’s Splashed the Cash
Hired in December 2009, Roberto Mancini is in his first full season as a manager in England. Inheriting a wealth of international talent, the former Inter Milan manager bought in the likes of David Silva, Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli and James Milner heading into this season, giving him endless talent to choose from.
A mixed start to the season that included a home draw with Blackburn, a loss at Wolves and a 3-0 home thrashing at the hands of Arsenal, Manchester City put their name in the hat as serious title contenders in December when they won 4 out of 5 games. 7 points from their first 3 games in the new year had Manchester City looking good, but a defeat at Aston Villa on January 22nd has been the start of their downfall. Draws at Notts County (in the FA Cup) and Birmingham City have ensued. Worth noting Joe Hart was at fault for Darren Bent’s Aston Villa debut goal, and Birmingham’s opener last night. Could Shay Given find himself back in the first team soon?
This weekend, Manchester City host West Brom in a game I cannot see them picking up anything less than 3 points, before travelling to Old Trafford for the second Manchester derby of the season.
Dropping Too Many Points
Even though Manchester United did draw at Birmingham earlier this season, I do not believe they would have come away with less than 3 points had they have played them last night. They win the games they need to win. It’s something Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides nearly always do. It’s something Roberto Mancini’s side need to learn. They have dropped crucial points at home to Blackburn, Birmingham and Everton this season. They have also dropped points at out-of-form Birmingham and Aston Villa as previously mentioned.
While Manchester City have failed to win a number of high pressure games, across the city, despite many claims that Manchester United have underperformed this season, they currently lead the Premier League and are unbeaten in 29 league games. They have won 9 of their last 11 league games. Several times this season they have come from behind and/or won late on.
Played Poorly, Still Picked Up 3 Points
Starting on New Year’s day, Manchester United underperformed but still managed to come away with 3 points at the Hawthorns. Aided by a missed penalty from Peter Odemwingie and some poor defending for both goals, this was another example of United’s ability to win when they don’t perform well, in what turned out to be Gary Neville’s last game. Days later they produced a 2-1 victory over Stoke, the same scoreline in the first meeting between these two this season when Javier Hernandez got a late winner. A goalless draw at White Hart Lane was a good result, and even played the last 15 minutes or so with 10 men following Rafael’s sending off.
Time and Time Again
After an horrendous first half at Bloomfield Road where Manchester United went in at half time 0-2 to the Premier League’s new boys, presumably for some hair dryer treatment at the hands of Sir Alex Ferguson. Whether it was fatigue and naivety on Blackpool’s behalf, or another example of Manchester United doing what they do best, they came away with 3 points thanks to a brace from Dimitar Berbatov as they scored 3 times in 15 minutes.
In a Different League
Manchester United travel to Wolves this weekend, and however they play in the first half or whether they go a goal down again, I expect them to come away with 3 points. With no Rafael (out with concussion) or Gary Neville to play right back, John O’Shea will likely have the task of keeping Matty Jarvis quiet down the wing. Other than that, I don’t see them having too many problems.
Champions League Qualification Enough?
Back to the blue half of Manchester, while they still keep their fingers crossed they can win the league this season, they still need to ensure a top 4 finish and qualify for next season’s Champions League. Currently 5 points ahead of 5th place Spurs, but having played a game more. Those two are separated by a resurgent Chelsea. All those teams have European action to concentrate on later this month, but it is Manchester City who have the favourable run, given their large squad and that they are in the Europa League.
Even with Roman Abramovich’s millions, Chelsea had to settle for a runners up spot the season before they won the league. Failing to win the league this season, despite the money spent is not a disaster for the Citizens. Although attracting players hasn’t been a problem for them, despite missing out on the likes of Kaka and David Villa, playing in the Champions League next season will be a big incentive to their star players. That is a big thing, given the number of rumours this season of falling outs and unhappiness within the camp. Roberto Mancini has my sympathies for trying to keep harmony within a squad full of so many egos.
Is Mancini the Right Man for the Job?
I’ve been critical of Roberto Mancini’s negative tactics in the past. None more so than his 0-0 draw at Arsenal in the Premier League. The same scoreline he’s had in fixtures with other sides who finished in the top 4 last season; against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. But for Carlos Tevez’s solo effort for Chelsea, the same scoreline was on the cards in September. That is the only goal his side have scored in 5 matches against last season’s top 4, having been beaten 3-0 at home to Arsenal. They travel to Old Trafford on February 12th, Stamford Bridge on March 20th and host Tottenham on April 16th to make the tally more respectable.
The signing of Edin Dzeko has seen Mancini alter his tactics; now playing two strikers and keeping David Silva in the team. Interestingly, City haven’t kept a clean sheet in the 5 games since Dzeko made his debut. Even conceding goals versus Notts County and Leicester City. While they managed to score 4 in back-to-back games versus Wolves and Leicester. Entertainment anyone?
However, Ediin Dzeko has been slow to settle in the Premier League. In truth, he looks slow in general. Still without a league goal, he can only hope he gets things right in their home game versus West Brom this weekend.
The Nigel de Jong-Gareth Barry-Yaya Toure threesome in midfield has never been one of my favourites, as exciting as Toure is. I believe the a more adventurous sides in games versus the likes of Birmingham City and Aston Villa this season would have seen them pick up more points. Anyone recall Mancini bringing on Gareth Barry for Carlos Tevez in the final 10 minutes of a goalless draw at home to Birmingham City in November? That was moments after bringing on Pablo Zabaleta for Aleksandar Kolarov; a left back for a left back! Mancini has got it wrong on a number of occasions this season, and that’s something Sir Alex Ferguson does not do very often, especially not during the game.
With a defensive-minded squad, there is one manager whom could be the ideal replacement for their current one. Jose Mourinho is not happy in Real Madrid and his side are going to fall short of winning La Liga this season. He’s also at risk of his long unbeaten home record ending when Real Madrid host Barcelona on April 16th. Two Premier League titles with Chelsea, Champions League titles with FC Porto and Inter Milan. A manager who’s bough success at Chelsea and Inter Milan, following his superb performance with FC Porto in 2004. All using defence-first tactics and mind games. How would Manchester City fans like Jose Mourinho in charge of their club next season?