There is no way to avoid it, Manchester City have literally fallen to pieces in recent weeks. The disastrous performance at the Emirates on Sunday summed up their fortunes since Christmas; there was no significant goal threat, their passing was laboured in midfield and without Yaya Toure (who was injured early on) or David Silva there was no thrust to their play. The side was screaming out for width and for their manager to make a tactical change that could have hurt Arsenal, neither happened and they lost.
Whilst much of the criticism has centred on Mario Balotelli’s controversial behaviour (yet again) a sizeable percentage of the blame must lie at Roberto Mancini’s door. A manager, it must be remembered, who enjoyed most of his managerial success in an almost unopposed Serie A following the Calciopoli scandal. There is nothing worse than a knee jerk reaction to sporting outcomes and Mancini is certainly a competent manager but there must now be serious doubts about his ability to revive City for next seasons’ challenges.
It has not been a straightforward season for the Italian manager; firstly he has had to deal with want away striker Carlos Tevez and then in recent weeks has attempted to control the troubled Mario Balotelli. I seemed to be one of the few people that genuinely believed the Tevez saga benefited Mancini and City; he had been outstanding the season before and at points had lead the club single-handedly to qualify for Champions League football. However, the rumblings of his unhappiness in Manchester etc had not gone away and it seemed almost inevitable that something would come to a head at some point. The situation would also help Mancini to deal with Balotelli who you could see snarling on the bench at the start of the season. With one striker less he was then able to play them all enough to ensure they remained content at the club.
However, dealing with Balotelli has proved to be one step too far for Mancini. He has an unbelievable knack of grabbing headlines for both the right and wrong reasons but it seems his luck has finally run out. With the threat of a long ban looming it may prove to be more beneficial for City to cut their losses and let Mario return to Italy; just imagine a front line at AC Milan of Balotelli, Cassano and Ibrahimovic – that would be worth watching and would certainly keep Massimiliano Allegri on his toes!
In all seriousness though these situations have been undermining Mancini and have resulted in Manchester City falling apart so dramatically. The early season form of David Silva has disappeared and the Spaniard has looked absolutely shattered in recent weeks and didn’t play at Arsenal on Sunday. He was sublime at the start of the season but Mancini did not protect him enough and also underplayed Samir Nasri which has slowed up his progression at his new club. When Nasri made the move last summer he appeared the obvious choice to step in for Silva if tired/injured but when you consider he has only started 21 league games this season the picture becomes clearer.
The loss of Yaya Toure to the African Cup of Nations and the injury/suspension to Vincent Kompany have also been key factors in City’s decline. However, the key decisions have still been with Mancini and it is why it seems unlikely he will be in charge next season. Some of his tactical decisions and game strategies have been puzzling to say the least; going to the Emirates for a point when Arsenal are there for the taking was foolish and underlined his negativity, his overuse of two defensive midfielders at various stages again this season has stifled the side and some of his substitutions have been simply odd; bringing on Kolarov to sure up the left was fine but why were his attacking options only introduced with minutes remaining. The game had been crying out for Tevez to make his introduction against an Arsenal defence that still gifts the opposition several clear cut chances a game but it came too late again.
One factor that may help Mancini is that Sir Alex Ferguson has been his counterpart; very few have got the better of him initially. He has seen off every manager the Premier League has thrown at him (apart from Jose Mourinho – but one feels that battle could restart in the not too distant future) in his 20 odd years at Old Trafford and his experience and nous is what will win United the title this time round. Despite what the inventors of modern day football (Sky) tell us this Premier league season has been unbelievably poor at points and City being unable to raise the bar has been a big letdown. It would be refreshing to see Mancini given time to correct his errors this year but it seems hard to believe at this stage.