It was probably the best lineup and formation he could field with his available players. With star playmaker David Silva ruled out, the creativity burden rested on ex-gunner Nasri and Balotelli with leading scorer Aguero spearheading up front. However several decisions from the City manager were questionable leading to what might be the end of his title pursuit.
1. Introduction of David Pizarro
Midfield dynamo Yaya Toure’s injury shortly after kick off was undoubtedly a big blow to the visitors, but instead of making a direct substitution with Nigel De Jong, who fell out of his favour this season, Mancini opted for a surprised change which indeed was a clever one. Roma loanee David Pizarro came on and played behind Aguero and Milner took up Toure’s position. The Chilean midfielder could definitely offer more creativity to the team. With Arsenal’s midfielders playing careless passes in the first half, Mancini seemed to think he got away with his decision.
With slightly more than an hour’s playing time in the Premier League under his belt, David Pizarro was definitely lacking match fitness in a league he has yet adapted to. Despite his starring performances in Italy, you wouldn’t think he could immediately reproduce such form away from home in a must-win fixture right, Roberto? Pizarro became next to anonymous in the 2nd half, unable to contribute much with his team under constant pressure from a revived Gunners midfield and Nigel De Jong must not be the only one wondering why he’s still on the bench. As a manager, you should be more aware of your players’ conditions and fitness before sending them on because of their class.
2. Entrust the Distrust
At the end of March, Mancini publicly admitted he does not trust Balotelli but will continue to play the Italian talent. Regardless of his performance on the pitch, continuing to use a player that you do not trust is a stern damage to the atmosphere inside the dressing room. To lose your players’ confidence and morale in the closing stage of a title challenge is probably the last thing a manager wants but Mancini did exactly that. Edin Dzeko would be the first to agree.
Tactic-wise, Balotelli started on the left. If Mancini intended Super Mario to help track back the erratic Theo Walcott, he should be disappointed but fortunate as the winger failed to sparkle against his former teammate Clichy.
It was apparent Balotelli did not like to play on the left as he occasionally roamed in the center, failing to even hinder Sagna from coming up. Balotelli was extremely fortunate as he escaped from sent off for a dangerous studs-first challenge on Alex Song – a tackle which Mancini claimed he did not see until the end of the match. However the striker continued to frustrate as the match went on, seeing him kick the post and boot in the grass on several occasions and ultimately got sent off for a second bookable offence minutes after conceding Arteta’s wonder strike.
We all know how equally eccentric Balotelli is as he is talented but instead of hoping a 21-year-old to mature in a few months, or even in 90 minutes, shouldn’t Mancini take the blame for repeatedly gambling on the risk factor?
|aligned in pointing, but definitely not aligned in thinking|
3. Settling for a point?
Man Utd won controversially earlier opening an 8-point gap. Let’s do the math, assuming Man City wins every match.
Scenario 1 (Draw Arsenal): 7 points difference in 6 games, winning the Manchester derby will make it 4 points in 5 games. Yet they still need Man Utd to lose one and draw one in order to win on goal difference.
Scenario 2 (Win over Arsenal): 5 points difference in 6 games, winning the derby will make it 2 in 5 games and City could already win on goal difference if Man Utd fail to win one match.
Despite Arsenal being the better side in the first half, there were merely any threats. Yet Mancini stuck with his starting eleven – which did not work – until the 79th minute when Kolarov came on for Nasri, but Wenger’s men were already taking control of the game.
Midway through the 2nd half, the midfield trio, Pizarro, Milner and Barry were showing tired legs and only Zabaleta and Kompany remained competently defiant. However Mancini could not, or did not, address the issue and chose to send on Kolarov for Nasri, hoping to protect the under-fire left hand side and hoped to steal the 3 points with Kolarov’s set-pieces – which was disappointing to say the least.
Nigel De Jong could have, and should have been sent on instead and earlier if Mancini decided to secure a point and many would have thought if Arteta, who in particular scintillated for the Gunners in the second half, would still have the space to line up his match-winner had De Jong be subbed in.
Mancini’s last substitution at the 84th minute was to bring on the player who he claimed “will never play for Man City again” (you know who) for Aguero. It was bemusing, without considering the player’s fitness level, 1) not to send on Dzeko instead for more height advantage in attack (from Kolarov’s set pieces) and defence and 2) leave the booked Balotelli on the pitch.
Mancini has lost the dressing room and might as well lost his composure to handle the pressure in the title race. He has decided to use a player he openly distrusts and is getting clumsy with his tactics. There will be better odds for Mancini to stay as manager next season than to City winning the league.
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