With City losing to Arsenal, just why have the Eastlands outfit struggled in the crucial stages of the Title Race and Europe this season?
Under Pressure: Mancini's side's poor results have blighted another wise impressive title challenge on the field.
Manchester City’s 1-0 loss to Arsenal has all but sealed the increasing inevitability of the Premier League trophy returning to Old Trafford. The Etihad Stadium side’s solid start to the title campaign saw them race ahead of veteran title fighters and Mancunian neighbours United. Yet, all the good work of early season; 2011 and the start of 2012, has been undone by some ill-timed arguments, acts of indiscipline and unfortunate injuries which have blighted the season’s crucial final stages.
Having drawn their previous two coming into the match against Arsenal and starting controversial Mario Balotelli alongside recovered Argentinean Sergio Aguero, it was a recipe for disaster as Balotelli charged recklessly over the ball and irrationally caught Alex Song’s knee in a horror challenge, once again proving he is a highly costly liability, both in monetary terms and team terms as he was sent off once again.
A lesson from the Master of Mind Games and Tactics
Sir Alex Ferguson claims that team “spirit” is carrying United on their current winning streak having defeated QPR 2-0 earlier in the day, perhaps jibing at the lack of togetherness which has plagued the media at some points this season within Manchester City’s dressing room.
It must also be remembered though that City are battling for a title against potentially one of the greatest managers of all time, and despite defeating United 6-1 in a humiliation at Old Trafford, United have come back stronger, more resilient and better equipped for the demanding season long title fight than their "noisy neighbours" who have all but silenced of late.
Mancini is undoubtedly an experienced manager, but a naïve decision from City representative and former Arsenal player Patrick Viera to start playing mind games with the 19 times ‘Champ19ns’ has proved damaging. Ferguson is no novice to the demands of a title run in, and by ensuring his players consistently pump out results, he has made Frenchman Viera look foolish. United have taken 10 more points from their last six games - having won them all - than Manchester City who have managed to take just eight. City's relative inexperience at this level is something money can't improve, only time can. Patience is the answer, but such is a rarity in modern football, perhaps next season City will be more experienced and educated about the fact that the title race is a marathon, not a sprint.
Tevez affair ‘Damaging’
The farcical handling of Carlos Tevez has tarnished the reputation of the club. By indefinitely banning him, announcing he will never play for the club again, allowing him to stay in exile for over three months and then relaxing the rule to allow him game time in such a crucial game (vs. Arsenal) because Mancini has a belief in him that he can change the game more so than second top high scorer Edin Dzeko is highly questionable and morally wrong.
Last season’s 1-0 FA Cup Final victory over their neighbours and 6-1 demolition of them at Old Trafford late last year seem like “days gone by” such is the decline in form of star players - most notably so David Silva - who has played for the Light Blues 41 times this season and faces a battle to be fit and in form to compete for a place in the Spanish midfield starting line - possibly the most talent dense area of any international team in football history.
An Underlying Cliched truth
City’s demise has been almost a certain occurrence from the beginning of the Abu Dhabi take over. The waves of purchases under different management has caused problems and the well known cliché of “Money doesn’t buy success” has been re-enforced to the City hierarchy by their recent results, playing against teams with considerably less disposable finance available to them and falling behind (both at Sunderland and Stoke) only to desperately fight back to earn draws. For the investment made, bar 2011’s FA Cup victory, success has been limited. A poor European run from City hasn’t helped, in a group that should have been swiftly dealt with and could have held more potential glory nights in Europe for the Etihad outfit. The miserable Europa League run was also disastrous for City. With over £210million spent on transfers alone in the past two seasons, City should have at least posed a threat to reach the last four of Europe’s “second” competition. Notably though, United have mirrored City’s poor Europe exploits this season, however they have made up for this by moving eight points clear in the title race.
Arsenal’s win condemned City to a near impossible task of overturning an eight point deficit in the remaining seven games of the season. It also showed that despite the early season discontent shown by Gunners fans following a poor run of results is that changes take time. Mikel Arteta initially seemed like an impulse buy from Arsene Wenger to fill the conceived irreplaceable space left by the prodigious yet declining Cesc Fabregas who has rediscovered his form at Barcelona, but, as today’s results show and as the seasons statistics show, Arteta has been one of the most effective, if not arguably the most effective midfielder in the Premier League this season. The unsung hero of Arsenal’s rise to an initially unthinkable potential third place finish. The moral of the story is that, ironically using money from the sale of Samir “Na$ri” Nasri to the Eastlands team, Wenger’s shrewd investment in the former Everton man was their downfall. Money isn’t everything in football, team spirit and a togetherness is a greater power.
Tevez, Balotelli & the manager who invested in his own downfall
Roberto Mancini was reportedly notorious for being a strict disciplinarian at his former club Inter Milan, so how has such an apparent hard-line manager softened up so much? He has, of late, shown his frustration at one man “tabloid filler” Mario Balotelli by admitting if he was a team mate of the 21 year old fellow Italian, he would “probably punch him”. Following today’s game where Balotelli was sent off, Mancini admitted he was “probably” going to be sold in the Summer. Perhaps an optimistic outlook from Mancini who assumes a club is foolish enough to welcome one so young with such a negative and temperamental reputation. There is once again an irony in this though, Mancini worked with Balotelli at Inter, he knew he was talented, but he also knew that he was a distinctive liability. With the £24 million investment, Balotelli has provided little more than a great media circus, with the goals he provides being over-shadowed by poor on and off-field decisions including a disagreement with team mate Aleksander Kolarov during the Sunderland game last week. There is no doubt that Balotelli has talent, but it also has been crushed by his internal battles with numerous players dividing the dressing room. Great teams are made not only on the pitch, they are made with strong off-field relationships too.
The decision to welcome back Tevez is also another display of Mancini’s loss of discipline. By backing down on the decision to sell him and never welcome him back at the club, he has made a mockery of justice. It can only cause more discontent, how will all other strikers below Tevez in the pecking order react? Edin Dzeko is likely to be unhappy, as is Adam Johnson at this decision, along with many Manchester City fans. Sir Alex Ferguson once again poked fun at the decision, claiming it to be “desperate”.
Perhaps this all might be an over-reaction to a minor dip in form, but whatever the outcome of this season’s title race, the harsh reality is that there will need to be - and undoubtedly there will be - an inquest into the self inflicted capitulation in the latter stages of City’s title charge. It is an inquest that could cost Roberto Mancini his job, but, until the end of the season, we will leave with the words of the Manchester City manager; “Never say Never in football.”