Aston Villa v Manchester City preview: Roberto Mancini warns players he won't tolerate slackers
As last orders approach in the Last Chance Saloon, Roberto Mancini has warned any Manchester City player who does not take responsibility for poor performances that they can leave the club.
Tonight the Premier League champions go to Aston Villa 15 points adrift of Manchester United with their manager arguing that anything less than 11 straight wins is unlikely to be enough. If and when the defence of their title is called off, the recriminations could be bitter.
Given that Villa are desperate for points, at home and will be inspired by the fact that other relegation candidates – Newcastle, Southampton, Wigan and Reading – all lost over the weekend, the concession speeches might come sooner rather than later.
Mancini has already damned City's summer transfer policy that did not deliver any of his main targets and has identified players like Samir Nasri and Joe Hart, who have fallen below his standards.
In this he is unusual among the Premier League's top managers. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger have long maintained a policy of not publicly criticising their players by name, although both can be vicious behind the dressing-room door.
"When I was a player, I always took responsibility whenever I didn't play well. I would say: 'Sorry. I will do my best in the next game' and it should be like this," Mancini said.
"I don't like players who never think it is their fault. These players cannot play for me. It is impossible. I want strong players who are upset when they don't play and who want to show me on the pitch that they deserve to."
As a player, Mancini possessed a rage for perfection that his mentor, Sven Goran Eriksson, said risked exhausting him – "he wanted to be the trainer, the kit man, the bus driver. He wanted everything in place before training". At City, Mancini has been scathing about those footballers whose thinking is less focused.
"I am not rude to my players but I do say what I think," he said. "I think it could be good for my players to understand that they could play better and that they can do more.
"I say this because I am not someone who lies. Sometimes it is important players take their responsibility because when you are a top player, you earn a lot of money and should perform at 100 per cent always.
"I don't criticise my players after every game. It is easy when you have won and everyone is saying: 'well done' or 'you're the best'. Sometimes, that is impossible.
"When you win, like last year, it's easy but when you have a problem you should resolve it. I love all my players and I'll do everything I can for them but I want them to do everything for the club."
As the season has dragged on, it has been clear Nasri has not been "doing everything for the club". His City performances have been every bit as desultory as they were for France in Euro 2012.
Mancini's declaration last weekend that Nasri had given only "50 per cent" may encourage the 25-year-old to return to France with Paris Saint Germain, however tough that might be for a boy from Marseilles.
Mancini argued: "If I am a top player, I want to play well in every game. Samir knows this because I have spoken to him about it. He can do better because he has quality and technique and he is strong. If you have the ability he has, you should be important in every game."
Mancini acknowledged that retaining a title in England is more difficult than elsewhere in Europe. In the last 60 years only five managers have done it – Sir Matt Busby, Stan Cullis, Bob Paisley, Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. Mancini recognises he is unlikely to add his name to that list this season.
"Sometimes, we haven't played with the same attitude as we did last year," he said. "It might be normal and it was for this reason we said it was important to bring in another two or three top players into the team because it is important to add more top players after you win.
"It is difficult to win the championship here. Usually, when you manage a team that hasn't won it for 40 years, you need four, five or six years to win a Premier League. We won the championship after two and it is clear it is more difficult the year after – but we had the chance."
Odds: Home 13-2 Draw 7-2 Away 4-9
Kick-off Tonight, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights Sky Sports 1, 1am, Tuesday)
Team news Ron Vlaar hopes to overcome a calf injury for Aston Villa and Shay Given (groin) is fit, but Darren Bent (foot) is doubtful. Vincent Kompany (calf) is again expected to miss out for Manchester City along with Maicon and Micah Richards (both knee); Gareth Barry (ankle) is fit.
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