What’s happened to Manchester City this season? I’m sure most of you would agree with me when I say it’s been a poor start to the season for them. I am open to arguments from people who say they are only 2 points off top spot – it’s not like they’re out of the title race – but 22 points from 10 games so far is generally a poor start compared with the standards they will have set themselves in my opinion, and you’ve got to factor in that they are still yet to play Chelsea, Man United, Tottenham and Everton. They are already out of the Carling Cup and it’s been an even worse start for them in the Champions League, there’s no disputing that, collecting just 1 point from two matches against Ajax where only maximum points would have really sufficed. They are now bottom of their group. It’s been a bad all round start for them, and here are my thoughts on what might have caused it.
1. Complacency from last season
There appears to be a general mood of complacency in the Man City camp. Sluggish Premier League performances against teams like Stoke, West Brom, Swansea and West Ham so far this season, and the fact that they’ve drawn more away games than they’ve won, suggest they thought this season would be a breeze which they couldn’t afford to do. Chelsea have been spending like there’s no tomorrow this summer and apart from a brief period in the middle of the first decade of the new millenia when Arsenal went a season unbeaten, and Mourinho won the league twice with Chelsea, Manchester United under Ferguson have never lost a Premiership title and then failed to win it the following season. You’ve also got to take into account the ludicrous sums of money these players are being paid, at least five Manchester City players are on contracts of £200K-a-week, it’s bound to turn those players into self-orientated egos, and Mancini should have done a better job at keeping those players grounded.
2. The Balotelli factor
I think Mario Balotelli is a liability for City. He might say: “you don’t know me. People think they know me, but you don’t know the real Balotelli.” But, in a similar respect to someone like Joey Barton, he’s done so many stupid things that it’s impossible to not judge him. In the past three years, he’s fired air pistols in the open in Milan’s Piazza della Republica, he’s allegedly been photographed with members of the Mafia, he’s crashed his car with £5,000 in his back pocket, stopped in an Italian women’s prison to ‘have a look around’, thrown darts at a youth team player for a prank, stopped at a college in Manchester because he ‘needed the toilet’ and set his house on fire… he’s done so many stupid things, and they can’t be all made up by the papers, in fact some of these things have been confirmed to have been true. The point I’m making is, with this drama he inevitably creates, Balotelli takes up an awful lot of Mancini’s time and attention, when there are 24 other players in the squad. Considering he’s a rotation player, and I don’t think as good as Tevez and Aguero, or arguably even Dzeko, is he worth the hassle? I don’t think so, because there are better players out there in the world, that would love to play for Man City, that they can also afford. It’s not like they’re cash-striken and have had to resort to using Balotelli. If anything, in games Balotelli sometimes tries things that are too complex when he should just play the simple pass. Alex Ferguson would sell Balotelli in a heartbeat if he noticed his over ego, but then again, Ferguson would have had the sense to not buy the Italian in the first place. In short, I don’t think his undoubted skill makes up for the pressure he puts his team under.
3. Poor summer recruits
There can’t be much debate that Manchester City’s quality of squad has, surprisingly, gone backwards since last season. Let’s be honest… Scott Sinclair will never be anything more than a decent squad player for City, unlike Balotelli, I don’t think he’s talented enough in the first place and is a bit of a waste of time and £15 million as far as I’m concerned, and he’s blatantly gone to the club for the money. I’ll admit Javi Garcia is a decent buy, he might give Yaya Toure the licence to get forward and express himself in the last 20 minutes of matches when he is at his most dangerous in matches, like he did so crucially in the penultimate game of last season to score two goals at Newcastle, they needed a replacement for De Jong because Gareth Barry simply doesn’t cut the mustard. Can’t argue with that. But they’ve also signed Maicon at right-back, who is very injury prone and is 30 now, I could see him being another Owen Hargreaves. Jack Rodwell was another signing, who wasn’t even getting a first team game at Everton! To call him an average Premiership player would being just a little harsh on him given his young age of 21, especially for a defensive midfielder, but in my opinion, he was an unnecessary buy. I’m not sure what he adds to the team, and then, the most bizarre transfer of the all… Richard Wright. Yes. The guy who played in-goal for Ipswich and I think, Everton over 10 years ago, who was out of contract because Preston North End released him due to homesickness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more pointless signing – he’ll never play for City! A very poor piece of planning from Roberto Mancini it has to be said, I know his contract won’t consist of anything substantial, but it’s simply a waste of time.
4. Mancini’s lack of tactical nous
Over this season so far, the Italian has shown negligible evidence of tactical understanding. It was quite clear from last season that four at the back, with Kompany and Lescott, was the way forward. It gave them the best defensive record in the league, and made them very difficult to break down, but all of a sudden he decided to change that to 3 at the back, possibly provoked by a Barca ideology or the success of Prandelli’s formation with Italy at the Euros, but the change was impractical. It left them very vulnerable on the flanks and it took the players too long to get used to. In fact, it meant the Citizens had to wait until October to get their first clean sheet of the season, which came against Sunderland, the Premiership’s lowest scorers. Although it would be a little unfair of me not to mention that he has, in fact, changed this system in recent matches, and that they have kept two clean sheets from their last two Premiership games, although they conceded a couple of sloppy goals against Ajax in the Champions League. But the other thing I don’t quite understand about Mancini’s logic on, is Mancini’s placement of Kolarov as a right-winger in the final third of the match against Ajax. I would agree that his quality of delivery is up there with the best in the Premier League, and his attacking skills do probably outweigh his ability as a defender, but with the forward talent of players like Silva, Aguero, Tevez, Nasri, maybe Milner and Balotelli, I’m a little sceptical of how Mancini can think his qualities can transfer to right-wing. So not only did he play him in the wrong position, he played him on the wrong side!
All of these factors, to some degree, point to Roberto Mancini: it was his job to keep a healthy motivation within the players and make sure they don’t let their egos outgrow them, it was a poor decision from him to remain loyal to Balotelli given all of the stupidly social-work-esc management difficulties he brings with him, he’s not signed good enough players, Garcia aside, who will enhance the quality of the squad – they stayed at the same level when the likes of Chelsea and United have bettered themselves significantly in the transfer market, and he’s shown no sense of common logic in changing to a formation that incorporates three defenders when 4-4-2 was clearly working so well.
I would say due to the nature of the Champions League having matches in midweek that means some players struggle with fatigue amongst other things, having a manager who is tactically astute, and knows when to rest players, is absolutely vital to a team achieving success in the Champions League, and I don’t think Mancini is that man. Mainly because of these reasons, I’m of the opinion that Manchester City can’t win the Champions League, or possibly even the Premier League again until Roberto Mancini leaves.