Roberto Mancini’s mandate as Manchester City manager was clear – win the Premiership and then the Champions League. He achieved the first object last season with a nail-biting finish which saw City snatch the title from neighbours, United in a quite unbelievable fashion. City trailed QPR by 2-1 going into the 90th minute of the game. United players and fans thought that they had regained the title as news filtered in that City were losing, however two moments of inspiration and late goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero, swung the game in City’s favour and secured them their first ever Premiership title.
Winning the league secured Champions league football for this season, which for City fans, looked to be as exciting as the previous one. Carlos Tevez had resolved his problems with the club and had returned to bolster an already impressive front line for the club. Captain Vincent Kompany signed a long-term deal with the club, and new signings Jack Rodwell, Javi García, Scott Sinclair, Maicon, Matija Nastasic and Richard Wright added to the options available to Mancini. But everything was not right for the Italian coach. Problems with young striker Mario Balotelli remained an issue from last season, rumblings of disagreements between the clubs Saudi billionaire owners and Mancini over player purchases and the amount of cash available to Mancini surfaced on a frequent basis and stories appeared in the press about Mancini apparently touting himself around Europe to the likes of Monaco, stating he was looking for a fresh challenge, caused further unrest.
City’s start to this season has not been as impressive as last years. The star players are still in place but are failing to perform. David Silva, the architect of much of City’s moves last year, came back exhausted from Euro 2012 having helped Spain lift yet another title and has struggled so far. Strikers Sergio Augero and Mario Balotelli haven’t hit their stride yet and have only scored 6 goals combined in all competitions. City’s rock solid defence including captain Kompany and keeper Joe Hart look less assured this season, managing only 3 clean sheets in 10 Premiership games so far. But it’s City’s performances in the Champions League and Mancini’s bizarre tactical changes that have raised the most alarm bells.
Drawn in a group with Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, City looked to have a good chance of progression. Madrid of course, would be a challenge but the younger, less experienced teams of Dortmund and Ajax should have been easier to overcome especially with the players at Mancini’s disposal. But results and performances have not been good and showcase City’s weaknesses and naivety. After a brave performance against Real Madrid which went down to the wire but ultimately saw Madrid win 3-2 after a late goal, they went into week 2’s game with Borussia looking for the win. Dortmund and their coach, Jurgen Klopp sprang a surprise and walked away with a well deserved point. But it was the next two performances against a young Ajax side that has left Mancini wondering what to do. A strong performance by Ajax saw them win the first match 3-1 and follow it with a 2-2 draw in the second match. For a team costing less than $10 million to build against a team of multi millionaire superstars, this was an embarrassment.
Mancini’s tactical alterations have been blamed in part for the defeats, switching from City’s preferred flat back four in the League to an unconvincing three centre backs in Europe. City’s players looked out of sorts in this formation, which resulted in them losing goals against Ajax and Dortmund but Mancini refused to admit he had made an error and revert back to the tried and tested model. Now lying bottom of the group, with only 2 points, City need to win twice against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund and hope other results go their way, to sneak into the knock out stages. This looks unlikely given Ajax’s form and the games that City have to play but it’s possible. Mancini’s rant at the referee and his officials following their last game with Ajax, is a sign of cracks appearing in the coach. The normally cool and collected Italian, refused to attend the ritual post match press conference, sending assistant David Platt instead. The former England midfielder defended Mancini saying:
“He’s fine. People make a great deal out of it but it’s not the first time he’s reacted in that way. He didn’t rant and rave, even though that was the way people wanted to say it. He was quite firm on something because that’s what he believed. But it’s gone the day after”
The question for Manchester City’s foreign owners is this – if City fail to progress from the group and are knocked out of Europe before Christmas, do they dispense with Mancini and rebuild for an attack on next season’s competition or do they stick with the coach they had faith in during the summer and hope he can turn this season around and lead them to the Premiership League title and another shot at Europe’s most wanted prize? The smart money would be on the former as the January window approaches. A new coach hired would have time to buy the players he needs to build a new team capable of winning the title and Champions League. If this does happen and a new coach is allowed to spend the millions Mancini was looking for, you can be assured that the Italian coach will not look at this favourably and will be critical of his dismissal by the club. Either way, Mancini’s job is questionable at the moment and if he wants to keep it, he will need to convince the board and owners that he can indeed deliver the one thing that they really want – the Champions League trophy.