One thing that money cannot buy for Roberto Mancini is time. After the swift replacement of Mark Hughes last December, Mancini had something of a honeymoon period during the closing stages of last season. City fans and pundits alike could use the phrases such as “it’s always difficult stepping in half way through a season” and “he has not had the opportunity to make his mark on the team”. These soundbites were too often used last season due to the Italians likeable personality and nice scarf despite being dumped out of both cups and missing out on the lucrative fourth place in the Premiership.
As I write this, City are a goal down to Blackburn, at home.
This season, will fast become make or break for Mancini. For a manager that was hugely successful in Serie A, he has been afforded something of a luxury, something that Hughes did not receive, a bedding in period. Despite this, he is still odds on with the bookies to be the first Premiership manager to be sacked this season.
So what has 9 months and over £100m worth of new recruits done for Mancini and City’s chances of capturing some silverware for the first time in 34 years?
Well, the opening fixture was a tough trip to White Hart Lane. In previous seasons, after losing out in the race to fourth place to Spurs last season, City sides would have lost that game before stepping out on the pitch. After Crouch’s header put the final nail in Mancini’s Champions League hopes last term, it was a surprise to see some of the “old” guard included. The big news was that seemingly, Joe Hart had won both the England No 1 Jersey (which is something of a lottery) and also had beaten Shay Given to the starting line up for City. Admittedly, if it was not for a blinding display from Hart in the first half, City would have been 4-0 down at the break. Nevertheless, City scraped through for a point with some bright play from Yaya and Tevez. Silva has been all but absent from the side ever since.
Next came Liverpool and Tevez and Johnson stole the show. Roy Hodgson’s second game in charge of the Red’s would have the former Fulham boss snuffling and tutting for days. The two City men completely outclassed the likes of Glen Johnson and Skrtel and Milner similarly had an easy first outing in blue. If the scoreline does not put the result in perspective, perhaps Jo getting a run out will. So City looked on course after a tricky couple of openers against two potential competitors for fourth spot. Four points from two games would satisfy Mancini and also the City faithful.
Either side of the trouncing of Liverpool, City had the niggling matter of a two legged qualifier for the group stages of the Europa League. Not an attractive prospect to say or worse, actually have to do. Mancini fielded strong sides for the games against the football powerhouse that is FC Timisoara of Romania. With a comfortable 2-0 win at the City of Manchester Stadium, Wright-Phillips and Boyata had pretty much guaranteed progress to the group stage. Balotelli showed his worth in the away leg by coming on to net the winner and then picking up a knock which will see him out to the end of October.
Next came Sunderland and by which point, Mancini should have been bouyant and the squad should have been pleased, as all but Santa Cruz had been involved by this point. No Onouha for this one as the terms of his loan dictated he could not play against his employer but for a side posing as suitors for a Champions League place, an away trip to Steve Bruce’s unpredictable Black Cat’s should be a straight forward an away win as is possible in the Premiership. Not for Man City. A 1-0 defeat is not the end of the world or the end of Mancini, however a return to the Kevin Keegan school of defending is not something that fan’s will enjoy. One moment of amusement came in the opening quarter of an hour when last seasons top scorer, Tevez, fluffed the ball over an empty net from 10 yards. One for Colin Murray’s Bloopers DVD this Christmas.
So if Tevez could have put that chance away, City would probably be looking at seven points from three games. In reality, its four points from three and as this is being written Vieira has just scraped an equaliser in against Blackburn. Mancini it appears, has got City playing his way. The difficulty with this is that they are not competing in Serie A. Perhaps against the likes of Juventus in the Europa League, this will succeed. Yaya Toure, Barcelona’s former holding midfielder, is playing just behind Tevez. So goals are not to be expected at Eastlands this season. However, whether the likes of Richards and Bridge have it in them to keep enough clean sheets to keep City at the sharp end this season is in doubt.
It appears that City have started off in typical mediocre fashion. Jo has just come on against Blackburn and missed a sitter. Mancini has finished off the squad to perfection and mixing the likes of Johnson and Richards with Vieira and Toure can only benefit the youngsters. City players collected 6 England caps in midweek against Switzerland. Balotelli, Yaya and Silva are all excellent footballers. Mancini has a proven track record of winning. However, will Bellamy be right in his prediction and will Mancini be given enough time to build a team to face Fulham on November 21st? Only time will tell.
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