Lee Dixon: Mancini's creativity on the chalkboard is as crucial to City as any star signing

The Weekend Dossier
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I have been watching Manchester City since I was five years old.

My father was a pro there, so I was never going to grow up with anything other than blue sympathies, and we've been rewarded by plenty of entertainment over the years. In a different age I stood on the terraces at Maine Road and watched Colin Bell, Rodney Marsh and Franny Lee. Now so much has changed. Along with all those new signings, an intense craving for success has arrived. So can City finally, truly become a force to be reckoned with?

The quality of the players they have signed this year is clear – although as yet there is no one in the very top bracket. More importantly, there is an emerging look of a team that can mount a challenge. Beating Liverpool was significant. It was a proper test for City, especially being at home in front of their own fans for the first time – the long-suffering fans who have lived in the red shadow for so long. They are probably going to be there for a bit longer, but what that win does demonstrate is that there may be an opportunity to escape it on the way.

Expectations will be sky-high now – which is where they should be, given what is going on at Eastlands. But how quickly can they reach the top? Roman Abramovich was not at Chelsea that long before they won the title, but they were already growing; he accelerated that in an extreme way. It would be a surprise if City went on to win the Premier League this season. The way they played against Tottenham on the opening day and Liverpool on Monday were from completely different ends of the spectrum and there will be periods like that. Whatever anyone says, it will take time to gel. It doesn't matter how well they start – even if they are top by Christmas – there will still come a point in the season when they falter.

The Premier League is much more competitive now at the top end – Arsène Wenger's mantra that it comes down to the last couple of per cent rings ever truer. The line is getting finer and even more comes down to the manager.

Roberto Mancini seems to like players to be versatile and if you look down City's squad he does have two players for each position. Most managers like to have two teams and two basic formations to work with over a campaign. Mancini played a midfield diamond against Liverpool with Yaya Touré at its point and it worked effectively. Away from home he may lean more on his holding midfielders – and he's got a few of them to choose from. He has the ever-present problem of keeping the big names happy – Emmanuel Adebayor is the latest to rail against sitting on the bench – but that may be dealt with in part by his liking for rotation. He played David Silva against Spurs and then Adam Johnson against Liverpool. Johnson played well but Silva will come back in at some point.

James Milner looks like Mancini's perfect player. He is the ultimate in versatility. It was interesting to see how City deployed Milner and Johnson against Liverpool with each on the "wrong" side.

As a full-back at Arsenal we always used to show players inside – that was your default setting, but when you have a right-footer on the left he will naturally be looking to come off his flank, so it creates a different problem for defenders. At Arsenal our fundamental approach was to cramp play when we didn't have the ball and expand when we did. As a full-back you showed a winger inside towards your centre-halves and midfield. As a result they had less space and as they were on their wrong foot they were less able to pick an incisive pass. "Inside, inside" was a Highbury mantra. That and seeing the 18-yard line as a cliff – there was no stepping back into the box.

Facing someone like Johnson, who will want to come inside and then, being on his better foot, can pick out a pass, will cause defenders to think again. It opens up the penalty area and can push defenders over that cliff.

Carlos Tevez is the ideal forward to get into space on the flanks created by wingers coming inside. Thierry Henry used to do it at Arsenal, finding openings on the left especially – we scored plenty of goals that way, the wide man cutting inside, feeding Henry and then midfield runners getting into the box. It is about shifting defenders into positions where they don't want to be. With Shaun Wright-Phillips and Silva, City are well stocked for wide men and they always have the option of swapping back to their normal flanks and presenting a whole different set of problems.

Versatility may be key. That could prove to be as much a weapon as any single star signing.

Five Asides

1. Crackdown on tackling leads to goals galore

The art of tackling is being squeezed out of the game – defenders are losing a basic part of their armoury. With the offside law and the ease with which players get booked, it is making defending more difficult and it is no coincidence we are seeing more goals in the Premier League. Defences are deeper and more cautious and that gives attackers more room.

2. Euro bore draw kind to Premier League quartet

It may surprise some but I was pleased to see Tottenham make it through to the Champions League. The more English clubs there the better. It is not the most exciting draw, though, and all the Premier League clubs should still be there come the knockout stages.

3. Mourinho proves once again he is Real deal

The Jose Mourinho effect is amazing. The minute he walks into a club it changes – they become a better team just for him being there. He has some massive egos to deal with, but if anyone can sort Real Madrid out it is him.

4. Fabregas won't wait much longer to win

Barcelona have finally got Javier Mascherano, but the one they really wanted is still at the Emirates. These days when a player really wants to go there is no stopping them and it will be interesting to see how Cesc Fabregas approaches it next summer if Arsenal have another trophyless season.

5. Time running out for Adams in Azerbaijan

I am planning to head to Azerbaijan to visit Tony Adams in October, although he has lost the first three games of the season with his new club, Qabala, and given the amount of time most managers are allowed these days I hope he's still in the job in a month.

Dixon's Weekend Verdict

Blackburn Rovers vs Arsenal

Dixon's verdict: This is a tough test for Arsenal – Ewood Park is never an easy place to go and Sam Allardyce's side have started the season well. But Arsenal are a tougher side these days and will score goals.

Kick-off: Today, 12:45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Away win

Blackpool vs Fulham

Dixon's verdict: It was a great result for Fulham against Manchester United last Sunday – they played really well and they will be on a high. It is a big game for Blackpool and they need something after last weekend.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Draw

Chelsea vs Stoke City

Dixon's verdict: At the moment Chelsea seem to be playing someone from outside the big six or seven at home every week. Last season Stoke let in seven at Stamford Bridge and there will be more goals to come.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Home win

Tottenham Hotspur vs Wigan Athletic

Dixon's verdict: Wigan are in turmoil and can't seem to find any way of stopping the flow of goals into their own net. Tottenham are looking good and shouldn't have too many problems here.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Home win

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Newcastle United

Dixon's verdict: Goals, goals, goals here, and probably in both directions – let's call it 2-2. Wolves have had a decent start and it couldn't have gone any better for Newcastle against Villa last weekend.

Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Draw

Manchester United vs West Ham United

Dixon's verdict: West Ham are having a nightmare and you only have to listen to any phone-in to hear the grumbling. I hope they give Avram Grant time but keeping United down to four would be a result here.

Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC1, 10.25pm)

Prediction: Home win

Bolton Wanderers vs Birmingham City

Dixon's verdict: Owen Coyle looks to be doing a good job at Bolton and they have had a decent start. Birmingham, too, have begun pretty well – they both have four points – and this will be close.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Prediction: Home win

Liverpool vs West Bromwich Albion

Dixon's verdict: West Bromwich have had their result – it was an important win for them last week over Sunderland – and Liverpool will be too strong for them especially with Torres back in the side.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Prediction: Home win

Sunderland vs Manchester City

Dixon's verdict: The City revival is gathering strength. Sunderland are usually strong at home but Mancini's men should have enough to win at the Stadium of Light – they need to if they are to really progress.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Prediction: Away win

Aston Villa vs Everton

Dixon's verdict: Neither of these have done too well so far. Villa were truly awful against Newcastle last Sunday and weren't much better in the week. I expect better to come from Everton.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC2, 10pm)

Prediction: Draw