Earlier in this season I wrote a fairly dismissive article about Manchester City. “City won’t win the league.” “Mancini is too negative.” “They should concentrate on getting a CL spot” etc. I suggested that the football wasn’t great to watch, there were problems in the dressing room and Mancini seemed out of his depth. However, like the third rate journo hack I am, I have been proved wrong. Yes, star players are still causing ructions in the dressing room with fights between Adebayor and Toure, Tevez wanting to leave and Balotelli being utterly bonkers. The football hasn’t improved much either given the fair served up against Arsenal last night. The 4-0 hammering of an utterly abject Villa aside they are yet to set the heart racing. But on the point about Mancini I’m going to own up and confess I was wrong. The man is masterminding a team mounting a genuine title challenge.
There are problems of course. The wages paid by City mean that its fairly hard to motivate players who don’t want to be. Two major issues City must address: their inability to score against the top sides and the relative difficulty of their fixture list. In seven games against the other members of the current top four (Arsenal, United and Spurs) Manchester City have yet to score once. This negativity could yet be their downfall. There have been seasons such as 2007/8 where results against direct rivals have had little baring on the outcome but it makes the task that much harder. Secondly, they still need to travel to Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, Anfield and Goodison as well as welcoming Spurs to Eastlands. It’s a much tougher run-in than for example Arsenal who have played all of their major rivals away from home.
Yet for all this, City are very much in the title race. Even though the stated aim at the beginning of the season was Champions League qualification City could well win the thing. Firstly while United, Arsenal and even Chelsea (although defeat at Wolves was probably the final nail in their coffin this season) all have the Champions League to focus on, City will a) be facing much easier competition in the Europa League and b) not exactly care if they don’t win it anyway. Secondly I did not predict City to provide a title challenge because I didn’t believe that the rest of the challengers would be this poor or erratic. United are unbeaten but have only two victories away from Old Trafford, Arsenal remain worryingly inconsistent and Chelsea have apparently been cursed by a shaman (nothing else explains it really). They have allowed Manchester City time to gel without establishing a serious lead, something they may come to regret.
Despite the crises and negative press surrounding City, most notably the Tevez saga, Mancini is pulling the squad together. Silva is looking more influential each week and would have been a vast improvement over the ineffective Jo last night had he been available for selection. Balotelli may need to sleep in a padded cell but his return of 8 goals so far this season is very impressive. Dzeko’s arrival, although most likely meaning the departure of Adebayor and Santa Cruz provides even greater strength to a side with the most depth already. Defensively City have made dramatic improvements since Mancini took over from Hughes. Should a strong partnership develop between Tevez, Dzeko and Silva that forward ammunition could just push the title towards Eastlands. Given I have all the top flight management experience that writing an online blog provides I feel qualified to criticize Mancini’s selection. He should drop Barry, push Yaya Toure back and deploy Tevez of Dzeko flanked by two from Milner, Silva, Balotelli and Johnson but again credit must be given. I, along with many others, criticized the selection of three players each perceived as ‘holding’ midfielders. But Toure has grown into the role linking defence and attack.
However, for all the admissions I’ve just made, I still fervently hope that Manchester City don’t win the title and I’m not alone in that. People really don’t like Manchester City and albeit as a United fan my opinion is worth about as much as a Zimbabwean dollar but I try not to let bias affect my writing and I don’t follow the whole “people hate us because we’re challenging the established order” argument. People dislike City because the football is boring. Spending grotesque amounts, well all football clubs have been doing that for a long while now City have just upped the stakes a little. But last night against Arsenal and at home to Manchester United earlier in the season the negativity was so yawn-inducing as to make a crunch title clash between second and third into a gigantic non-event. Mancini has proved me wrong so far about City challenging this season. But City are winning no friends among neutrals with him at the helm.