James Lawton: Mancini must man up if City are to emulate the heroes of '68

City have become not so much the unstoppable horse as the one-trick pony

Yaya Touré was always going to be a critical absence at the formative stage of a Manchester City season now showing the potential for full-blown catastrophe. But if they could not cover for the big man who often resembles a force of nature as much as a high-priced football commodity, who could?

Silva, Nasri, Milner, Barry, De Jong, Johnson and the new recruit, Roma veteran David Pizarro, aren't so much a skeleton staff as a managerial fantasy for Tuesday night conqueror David Moyes of Everton.

It is a reality that Roberto Mancini – to his credit as a football man of some honesty rather than a skilful self-publicist – maybe acknowledged when he took the blame for the ultimately wretched performance in the 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park. Some eyebrows were raised by Mancini's candour but some desperate times demand desperate remedies. What Mancini could not indulge in was even a hint of deflected blame as Moyes celebrated his fifth triumph over the Italian in six collisions. This represented not only huge over-achievement but also a recurring instinct for drawing maximum value from the thinnest resources.

Mancini scourged himself for sub-par preparation but the problem seemed to run a little deeper. City looked like a team of dwindling belief and at the current rate the challenge facing Touré when he returns from Africa might well be daunting even for a man of his power and confidence.

Telling, perhaps, was the expression of James Milner when returned to the bench after making way for Adam Johnson. Milner has produced some magnificent performances in the face of his team's diminishing certainties and most notably in the stirring rally against Manchester United in the FA Cup tie.

On Tuesday night, though, his face was a grim mask as he watched his team-mates drift from one point of confusion to another. Indeed, one camera shot offered more than a hint of the expression which overcame Cesc Fabregas, also a spectator, when he considered the scale of Arsenal's failure in last year's Carling Cup final at Wembley. A harsh and somewhat premature conclusion, you might say, but it is a comparison which will come more sharply into focus if City falter again any time soon.

Banished from the Champions League, hustled out of the FA Cup and the Carling Cup, City are threatening to match Arsenal's fall from the radar. They have become not so much the unstoppable horse as a one-trick pony. Still, as we are constantly told, winning the title for the first time since the team of Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison did it with such thrilling nerve 44 years ago is the move that might unlock so many other possibilities.

What has to happen, clearly, is something that disappeared quite disturbingly this week. It was the swagger of natural-born champions-elect. Some believe that one of the truly outstanding achievements of Sir Alex Ferguson was to get United, vintage 2011, first past the post last spring – admittedly by a flattering margin. If he does it again the critical acclaim has to go up several notches – and the sharpest point of analysis would surely come in the measuring of his resources against those of Mancini.

This is the time of the season when champions-elect begin to show their credentials, move up their self-assurance levels a notch or two, and if this week anyone has even hinted at this it is certainly not City. The demeanour of Ferguson has rarely been so jaunty this season as when United were brushing aside Stoke 2-0 at the same time as City were floundering so badly on Merseyside.

Harry Redknapp, rejoicing at both a break from court and fresh evidence that Gareth Bale is building again towards some epic performance – and still more financial upgrading in the European transfer market – may also have briefly reflected that if Jermain Defoe had appreciated a fraction more quickly the brilliant weight Bale put on a late cross at the Etihad Stadium, City would now be smouldering in third place.

Such conjecture, of course, never got a football man anywhere, but then nor did the kind of navel-gazing produced by Mancini in still another defeat. His assistant Brian Kidd was around at the time to feel, as a rising United star, the force of City's superb emergence all those years ago. He might just want to point out the key was an astonishing level of confidence, a belief that the team of Bell and Lee and company had come together in the understanding they had become unstoppable. They proved this when they carried the title in their last two matches with wins at Tottenham and Newcastle.

Any comparison with that mood and the one City took to Goodison Park this week has to be forlorn. Yes, 1968 is a long time ago but some things in football never change. High among them is the need of a manager to make his players feel good. This is hard when his body language so often speaks of despair.

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
arts + entsJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
football

Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday

News
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married in Venice yesterday
peopleAmal and George Clooney 'planning third celebration in England'
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker