When City came from behind to beat Tottenham a fortnight ago the buildup seemed like a relegation battle and not against teams that were slugging it out for the league title. Courtesy of Edin Dzeko’s late winner and a convincing won over Villa, City find themselves two points ahead of their cross town rivals and in pole position for the title race. A lot of flak has been directed towards City’s Italian manager and some factions in the footballing fraternity already believe that his days are numbered. City’s major disappointment so far has been its below par performance in the UEFA Champions league, a competition which many believe is the next step for City to make its mark in European football.
Whether or not one can conclude the ability of a manager based on a cup competition is highly subjective. City has been highly unlucky with the draw on both occasions as they were drawn in arguably the toughest group. If one was to put the Champions league in the context of horse racing it would probably be best described as a continental derby with best horses across the continent pitted against one another. In such a race it’s pedigree that invariably makes the difference in the last furlong. City as a club are short on European exposure/ pedigree and irrespective of any argument put forth it can’t be denied that European competitions are arguably the most tactically challenging in world football.
Success in European competitions is not assured even for the biggest clubs in the continent. The most successful club in European competitions has been Real Madrid (with 9 titles) and they too have struggled in the recent past. Their last 10 campaigns read as follows – 3 semi finals, 1 quarter finals and 6 round of 16 exits. Of course Real have tried to fix the problem by changing managers in search of European glory. The point remains that Real haven’t made it to the finals in the last decade let alone winning it and as many would say “the rub of the green” plays a huge role when it comes to the Champions league. Arguably Chelsea’s weakest team in the last decade went on the win the title and for all the grit and determination there was an element of luck involved. Amidst all this one wonders if it is indeed fair to expect a genuine title surge from City and begs the question – “Is it premature to write off Mancini and his City team?”
One criticism directed towards Mancini this season has been his tactics and losing the sense of invincibility that they enjoyed for majority of last season. The three man defense has caused a whole host of trouble for City and injuries to Silva and Aguero has meant over reliance on Tevez. To say that Mancini has lost the dressing would be premature and there have been more than once instance when the team has pulled together and overcome hurdles albeit through Edin Dzeko and his late cameos. Things aren’t all rosy too with Richards, Lescott and more recently Kolarov speaking out about defensive woes and their lack of understanding. Has Mancini complicated maters? Perhaps he has though as a manager it’s not the best scenario to watch players question tactics/ formation in the media and the only person that can address it is Mancini himself. How long does he have?
If last season was any indicator one would be led to believe that Mancini is quite safe afterall there was a juncture last season when City were 5 points behind United in the league and virtually out of contention for any silverware. Unless things have changed drastically one can assume that Mancini is safe for the moment, the only hiccup could be a young Spaniard currently in sabbatical. Is that a good enough temptation to dump someone who has won everything there is to win domestically? Of course there is also the likelihood of the special one being in fray should Mancini be sacked and that wouldn’t be the first time he replaces the Italian. Of course the two (Pep and Jose) come with a CV that has the stamp of having managed a Champions league winning team. Though it would be refreshing for once to see an owner/ chairman backing the manager in a game which is now hostage to player power and short sightedness. Will that happen is for us to find out over the course of the season. But are the Sheikhs listening?