City have started the season poorly by their high standards of last season. What is wrong at City?

The game at the Etihad on Sunday was a big test for both City and Arsenal. City have started the season poorly by their high standards of last season and Arsenal needed to show that their impressive start was not just the bullying weaker sides yet something more concrete. After the game questions were still out on both sides.

After a poor performance vs Madrid in the Champions League City there was some serious questions being asked about the players and the manager. The Joe Hart incident was irrelevant to the on the pitch concerns of which City were guilty of.

City defended poorly, were set up wrongly both in personnel and tactics and importantly looked overwhelmed by the occasion. For a side who are the champions of England, the performance was lacking in confidence and belief. Quite simply the gulf between England’s best and Spain’s was vast.

This weekend however saw City return to a ground where they dropped only TWO points in the whole season last year. They had defeated Arsenal 1-0 in the same fixture the year before, yet it appeared that one side was playing with much more confidence than the other so far this season.

Some serious defensive concerns

City’s problem this season has been in defence. A side who had such an impressive and solid defence last season appears disjointed and disorganised this year. So far this year in the league and Champions League City have conceded 10 goals. This is simply not good enough for a side who possesses such talent in defence yet they have been guilty of mistakes and disorganisation when conceding those goals. 

The problem may be City's new signing Javi Garcia. So far he has not impressed in the defensive midfielder role, especially when asked to stay as cover when Toure attacks. In all fairness and amazement, De Jong and especially Barry gave City this extra solidity last season. Garcia will need to improve his support and anticipation to help City prevent conceding more goals.

Mancini's threefold errors

Mancini should also be blamed for the sides shaky and nervous start. Firstly, the decision to alter formations between a 3-5-2, 4-4-2 and the winning 4-2-3-1 from last year appears in part tinkering from Mancini and perhaps a slight of worry to adapt and evolve from last season. The problem has been that City have not performed well when asked to do implement these different tactics. In all honesty, with the quality City possess in all positions, the 4-2-3-1 was and is the ideal formation for City to bring out the best of their players.

Secondly, I wonder how effective Mancini has been at preparing his players for this season. Mancini has always enjoyed being the underdog and having to fight to be the top side, one wonders if he has the ability to manage and conduct himself when on top. Although only early on, the side appears less driven and focused than last year. Whether this is a hangover from winning the title or worryingly for City fans a lack of impetus to retain the title remains to be seen. Yet this is clearly not the same team that started so well last year. 

Thirdly, the relationship between Mancini and Brian Marwood appears to have been strained over the summer. The lack of transfer activity throughout and then the arrival of Rodwell, Sinclair and Garcia makes one wonder if these were anywhere near Mancini’s intital targets or perhaps more a rash response to the rejection from players like Van Persie, Hazard and De Rossi. 

What is clear is that City have not added “world class” players to their side, which must have surely been the intention. When Aguero signed last year, one just knew City had signed a player capable of winning the title for this side. Another name like that this summer would have shown the clubs intent to build on last season. Instead their signings do not appear to indicate this.

Another important aspect to consider is the lack of activity out of City for players like Dzeko, Balotelli or Tevez. Although all three appear focused and committed to the team this season, one wonders if keeping all three players was a smart move from Mancini. I still believe Tevez should have been sold this summer and although Balotelli is an impressive talent, the issue after the Arsenal game shows that relations between him and Mancini continue to be volatile. Time will tell if these players will affect the environment and performance at City.

Overran in midfield again

This weekend’s game however appeared to be more of a 4-4-2 formation. Recalling Zabaleta and Lescott to the side was a smart move from Mancini, yet one wonders why they didn’t play against Madrid. Yet the decision to start Scott Sinclair instead of Tevez was simply wrong. An attacking three of Silva, Aguero and Tevez behind Dzeko would have arguably tore Arsenal apart, it would have restricted the full backs from attacking regularly and would have given City the ability to attack Arsenal.

Sinclair offered nothing to the side which was overran for much of the first half and the decision to remove Sinclair at half time was not a surprise at all. Mancini is known for not liking out and out wingers and one wonders how much time Sinclair will get at City; his style of play seems different to what Mancini wants and importantly I wonder if Sinclair is good enough for City anyway?

Although Sinclair was poor, it was not just him that failed to impress. Many of City’s players looked unfocused, their passes were off, movement was poor and for parts of the game they looked like strangers. The midfield, which seemed so dominant last season were overran, they simply couldn’t keep the ball and even Yaya Toure had a poor game (the foul throw at the end summed up his game). 

Whether exhausted from the midweek game where they chased shadows for much of it or perhaps admitting that Arsenal were one of the only sides in England who could out play City, it was clear City were not at their best, is this a blip or something more?

Silva's decline & Aguero's importance

A worry for City and Mancini must be the decline of David Silva. He appeared void of ideas against Arsenal and his performance was particularly shown up by the impressive Santi Cazorla. Since perhaps last Christmas, Silva has not been the player who impressed and captivated fans and pundits and one must worry about this dip in form. At times in the past he was unplayable, yet whether teams are finding him out or if he has lost that sparkle, either way it is not good for City.

The return of Sergio Aguero was massive for City, and although he didn’t put in his best performance, it is good news for City that he has returned. He is the best forward in the league in my opinion and City will need him fresh and fit this season if they wish to retain the title. His movement, touch and finishing ability is world class and City missed him dearly against Madrid in midweek.

Like United, City will improve, a point to Arsenal is not a bad thing after their start and perhaps both sides are evenly matched at this point of the season. I see City pulling away from Arsenal as the season goes on however and do expect City to win the title again. With the quality they have throughout the side it is hard to see past them again.

However, the key to the season will be Roberto Mancini. The Italian has a reputation for being hot headed, temperamental and argumentative with his players and this has shown itself again this week. Last season he appeared to be losing his cool as the season entered the “business” end and his inability to keep calm under pressure almost cost City the title. 

Will he have the ability to focus his side and importantly settle them and make them play like Champions? His side still is the best in the league in terms of quality, yet is Mancini as focused as Ferguson in his desire to win the title. Less tactical changes, a more settled side and a calm headed Mancini will lead City to the title, easier said than done?