On the back of the most enthralling, satisfying and successful season in the club’s history, there should be an air of positivity surrounding Manchester City. ‘That goal’ from Aguero, and the numerous connotations it brought should have been the dawning of a new era, the ‘Blue Moon rising’ at last. The fans, the players and the manager should be in good spirits. They should be, right?
It would be misguided to claim City are in crisis, but I think we can all agree there is something not quite right at the moment. On the face of it, their start to the domestic campaign has been a solid one. Two points from the summit of the Premier League, the Citizen’s have picked up points without really hitting their stride. Could be the ‘sign of Champions’, as we often hear? But this age old cliché has not really been bandied about in regards to City. Coupled with the fact that European success is once again proving elusive, manager Roberto Mancini looks a frustrated manager, under a lot of pressure.
The cool exterior that was so evident in his early days at the club has been tarnished by tantrums and flare ups in recent weeks. He’s fumed at his players, the officials, City executives and even cameramen! These outbursts, that were once sparse, are becoming unwelcome and recurrent. It doesn’t paint an overly pretty picture and it is having a big effect on his judgement when it comes to matters both on and off the pitch.
The tactical awareness that that was so prominent last season seems to have deserted him. Mancini was able to detach himself from the emotional stranglehold of games and make clever, objective substitutions and team selections. Decisions that sometimes proved unpopular with supporters, but often left the Italian vindicated as City performed excellently throughout the campaign.
This season, Mancini has made similarly bold decisions that haven proven to be considerably less successful. I recall him throwing on four strikers in an attempt to salvage a draw in Amsterdam. An untypically reckless substitution that in the end could have lead to the concessions of further goals. Theres the ‘3-5-2’ system that he looked set to implement from outset of this season. But this proved to be unpopular with the players and had limited success. It looks to have been subsequently shelved for the time being, with the tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 making a welcome reappearance for the City players.
At the back, City are all over the place, with the magnificent Joe Hart preventing some embarrassing score lines going in against them. Micah Richards had been sorely missed at right-back, whereas Joleon Lescott is very much out of favour for reasons unbeknown to all. Selling Nigel De Jong also looks to be a misguided decision, as his replacements Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell look to be less far effective in the ‘destroyer’ role, despite the superior fees they commanded. From a striking perspective Mancini seems to have no idea how to get the best out of Dzeko, whereas Aguero has been shifted to a deeper inside left position in an attempt to compensate the absent Silva’s creativity.
This apparent neglect of the age old principle ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ looks to have been born entirely out of frustration for the City manager. He missed out on his main transfer targets this summer, whilst De Jong looks to be a bigger miss than he first anticipated. Mancini bemoaned the lack of backing in the transfer market and whilst there will be little sympathy for a manager who has spent hundreds of millions, it couldn’t have been easy seeing your biggest rivals snap up your main targets. Especially for a manager so used to getting the players he wants.
In the wake of this dissapointment, the resultant signings the club did make have been somewhat underwhelming. Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair, their costs totalling around £18m, already look as though they have no part to play, which is hardly surprising to most. Whilst £16m man Javi Garcia has struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League. As such it is understandable in some respects that Mancini has tried to freshen things up with some new ideas and approaches (especially in Europe), seeing as he has virtually the same group of first team players that were available last season.
But he needs to remember that the spine of the team that looked so good last season is still there, with a year more experience playing together. For a club that has undergone such massive change over the last few years, some continuity surely wouldn’t go amiss? In keeping with this, it could be time to look towards at the players and the system that has provided the basis for the majority of their recent success. Back to basics if you will. With a big game against Spurs on the horizon, I would not be surprised to see Kompany and Lescott as the centre backs, Toure and Barry in midfield, with Silva (fitness permitting) and Nasri flanking Aguero up front. A very familiar and reliable City line up, packed with quality.
If ever Mancini needed inspiration to revert to a lineup similar to the one from last season, then he should look no further than the two games against Spurs from the last campaign. City won a thriller 3-2 and trounced Spurs 5-1 at White Hart Lane. Change won’t necessarily bring success!
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