Ian Herbert: Mancini uncertain about way forward

Manager's conflicting offensive and defensive impulses have been reflected in his obvious indecision about Nigel de Jong

The irony of it all is that Edinson Cavani seemed to be a symbol of what Manchester City didn't want, when one of the club's most senior executives met his agent his summer. At a football stadium on the continent, City's man had just finished telling Cavani's how Uefa's financial fair play regime meant the days of the club paying over the odds to attract players were over when it became clear he was wasting his breath. "So, about my player," the agent struck up. "We're talking €50m [£43m]. Great value..."

Though the arrival of Sergio Aguero – at £38m, always City's first choice – was more than adequate compensation, you can now see why Roberto Mancini encouraged the initial contact. City might have around £122m of strike force at their disposal but the fireworks are not always of the right type, nor at the right moments.

The Manchester City manager's weak and confused explanation of another bizarre 24 hours in the life of Mario Balotelli – pizza with the girlfriend, complaints of sickness, a goal and several spurned opportunities – does not obscure the fact that he is not to be relied on.

A headline in the Italian press, meanwhile, perhaps best told the story of Edin Dzeko's latest Champions League malfunction: Milner ispirato, Dzeko invisible. But as Mancini reflects on the likelihood of City becoming the first British team new to the Champions League to fall at the group stage since Kenny Dalglish's Newcastle United in 1997, he knows that the problems go deeper than his forwards. Right back into the core of his side, in fact, where the personnel at his disposal have left him torn between a desire to attack and to defend.

Mancini is in good company. Sir Alex Ferguson felt the same nearly a decade ago when his Manchester United side's European defeats, home and away, to Bayern Munich in April 2001, led him to believe that the quintessentially English 4-4-2 was too airy for the rigours of Europe. "Maybe we need to get new players, break it up, start again," Roy Keane reflected at that time and Ferguson duly dismantled the class and structure of '99, paying £28m to Lazio for Juan Sebastian Veron to break forward from a more fortified midfield and Ruud van Nistelrooy as a lone striker.

Mancini's side in Naples on Tuesday night reflected a similar lack of appetite for airiness. Pablo Zabaleta's selection above Micah Richards was roundly criticised by City supporters yesterday but the logic behind it was reasonable given Mancini's view – and it's one thing he shares with Fabio Capello – that Richards' attacking zeal does not always adequately compensate for the defensive vulnerability which Franck Ribéry exposed so ruthlessly in Munich in September. Sadly, Zabaleta's lack of pace was even more grievous, with Ezequiel Lavezzi buzzing around him. Conversely, Aleksandar Kolarov played ahead of Gaël Clichy for offensive reasons: Mancini thought Balotelli's pace would open up space for the Serb on the overlap. That failed, too.

Mancini's conflicting offensive and defensive impulses have also been reflected in his obvious indecision about Nigel de Jong – left out in Munich, hastily reinstated there after 55 minutes (that's what caused the fateful row with Carlos Tevez), selected once again in Naples but the first man to be hooked when a flaccid, static City looked in need of creativity.

A player who can both repel teams and open them up in Europe is what Mancini wants and it is actually someone Ferguson thought he had found four years ago when he signed Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich, with Europe in mind. The notion of Hargreaves delivering for City what his wretched injury record prevented at United would be some story, though the odds remain stacked against it. On the long road to recuperation, he still trains apart from the senior squad.

Milner could not explain, when he stopped on his trudge through Napoli's crumbling old stadium late on Tuesday night, why City could not locate the success in Europe which they have found in the league. "I don't know," he said. "It's just a different style [in Europe], who knows? We've given away two goals as a team and you can't afford to do that."

If Mancini's quandaries cause him any dark moments between now and the arrival on 7 December of Bayern Munich – whose desire to avoid City in the knock-out stages are a big incentive to keep their foot on the pedal – then Ferguson's attempts to create a style for Europe may not be terribly uplifting.

It was just as well Mancini was turning the key in his front door in Alderley Edge at 4.30am yesterday morning – and not around in Italy to read Gazzetta dello Sport's breathless headline: Cavani abatte il City. Cavani batters City.

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial