By Panos Bletsos
Roberto Mancini took up the Manchester City challenge in December 2009 and in spite of some heavy criticism he’s arguably led the club to the kind of success it hadn’t tasted for decades, if ever. An already impressive squad was further bolstered by new signings worth nearly 50 million dollars in the summer, but a season widely expected to establish City as one of Europe’s big boys is in danger of derailment as early as September. But why is that?
In his first season back in England, taking over from Mark Hughes, the Italian gaffer witnessed the Citizens concede 34 goals in 27 matches in all competitions, an average of 1.26 per game, which meant some work had to be done. After signing Aleksandar Kolarov and Jérôme Boateng and also bringing Joe Hart back from loan his side significantly improved that ratio to just 0.81 goals per match with an astonishing 30 clean sheets in 59 encounters, thus winning the domestic Cup for the first time in 42 years. Then Gaël Clichy was brought in to replace Boateng and City went one better. They were crowned champions again after a long 44 years, letting in 0.91 goals per game. A proportion which has somehow risen by some 120% to two goals conceded per match in 2012-’13!
Hart and his understudy, Costel Pantilimon, have failed to keep a clean sheet between them since May 6. Instead the Sky Blues’ goalkeeping duo has leaked in 16 goals in this campaign’s eight competitive matches, with Villa’s impressive 4-2 overtime victory at the Etihad in the League Cup exposing City’s defensive frailties. It’s clear that Mancini has to deal with the matter – and deal with it now.
That said, the Italian is also to blame for the problem. The City boss has admitted that pre-season work was not up to the required standards, while some of his key players at the back arrived too late – right fullback Maicon and central defender Matija Nastasić were both signed on summer transfer deadline day, while defensive midfielder Jack Rodwell joined in less than three weeks earlier.
The former Everton youth product has featured in half of his new side’s games so far, notching up more appearances than Gareth Barry, Abdul Razak and new recruit Javi García, as Mancini is still trying to establish a new central midfield partnership after Nigel de Jong’s departure to Milan.
And the situation is similar at the back. Hart in goal and Vincent Kompany in front of him seem to be the only constant values, with Kolo Touré and Nastasić fighting for Jo Lescott’s place and two competitors for each wing back slot (Maicon and Pablo Zabaleta on the right, Clichy and Kolarov on the left). Perhaps this rotation across the back four has played its part in what Mancini has lamented as “lack of concentration”.
Still the fact remains. City kicked off their season by adding the Community Shield to their trophy cabinet, but they have now been knocked out of the League Cup and begun both their Champions League and Premiership campaigns on the wrong foot. Mancini has a number of match winners at his disposal up front, but if the Sky Blues are to justify sky-high expectations he HAS to re-discover a rock-solid defense sooner rather than later.
Panos Bletsos has been a contributing writer to Soccer 365 for the past year or so, but has spent nearly two decades covering the Beautiful Game for a number of media, including Goal.com. Based in Greece, he also served as a Euro 2012 TV commentator for the public broadcast corporation ERT. You can follow him on Twitter @PanosBletsos.
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