A sense of deja-vu for Man City

November 1, 2010

SOCCER-ENGLANDA sense of deja-vu is sweeping Eastlands after Manchester City’s lame surrender against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday re-opened the cracks in the club’s glittering facade.

Manager Roberto Mancini has unrivalled spending power in English football but, just like Mark Hughes who he replaced nearly a year ago, is realising that there is one vital ingredient money cannot buy — team harmony.

City are still in the top four and handily-placed to mount a campaign to qualify for next season’s Champions League after last season’s near miss, but their title credentials have taken a battering in recent weeks and they are already eight points behind leaders Chelsea.

First there was a highly-flattering 3-2 victory after being out-played at Blackpool, then a 3-0 home defeat by Arsenal after being reduced to 10 men early on.

However, it was the 2-1 defeat at Wolves that exposed serious flaws that Mancini may struggle to fix in the limited time City’s managers are likely to receive.

With talisman Carlos Tevez out injured and reportedly homesick, City looked shorn of leadership, shape and fighting spirit and were reduced to squabbling amongst themselves as the points drifted away at Molineaux.

It all looks a bit similar to last season when City began with a flourish but then faltered, although after 10 games under Hughes they had 19 points compared to the 17 they have managed under Mancini this time around.

The workmanlike Hughes was bundled out the door last season in favour of the more “high profile” Mancini who was supposed to be able to handle the egos in City’s dressing room.

While it would be churlish to suggest City’s millionaires have lost faith in Mancini, it is clear that he is suffering his first major crisis since taking over and how he handles the next few games will be crucial.

City face surprise package West Bromwich Albion away next week and then a Manchester derby looms — fixtures that could test the nerve of Mancini and City’s owners.

The riches that have flooded into the club since their Abu Dhabi owners strolled in have raised the expectation levels at City to ridiculous levels.

Even Chelsea, in the early days of the Roman Abramovich era, did not spend at the same rate as City and it needed the magic touch of “Special One” Jose Mourinho to gel a squad and stamp an identity on a group of highly-paid individuals.

Mourinho clearly knew his best side at Chelsea, knew the team’s leaders and crucially, instilled a siege mentality, “everyone hates us” attitude into the squad.

Mancini would do well to learn from the Portuguese because at present his squad, despite a notable win over Chelsea, are clearly not all pulling in the same direction.

It takes a season to win a title but only three or four weeks of drift to lose one and Mancini must grab hold of the tiller quickly. Fifth place was just about acceptable last season but fourth is the absolute minimum requirement this time.

Hughes was jettisoned last December because his “points trajectory” was seen as not good enough. Many more performances like Saturday and City’s graph-plotters will be doing their calculations again.

PHOTO:  Mancini gestures during their English Premier League  match against Blackburn Rovers . REUTERS/Phil Noble

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