City's malaise is ill-discipline combined with lack of nous
If a season which promised so much for Manchester City ends in disappointment, as increasingly seems likely, what are the lessons to be learned? Players and management must share the blame for City's post-Christmas decline
Indiscipline (on the pitch)
Both Manchester clubs have incurred 38 yellow cards in the League this season – only Swansea (36) and Tottenham (37) have fewer – but while United have only suffered one red card (Jonny Evans, in the 6-1 defeat against City), City have five (Vincent Kompany twice, Mario Balotelli, Gareth Barry and Gaël Clichy). Not only have they won only two of the four League matches involved, this has cost them suspensions, among them the four-match ban Balotelli received after he stamped on Scott Parker.
Indiscipline (off the pitch)
"Why always me?" Actually, it is not just Balotelli. Carlos Tevez, Adam Johnson, Joe Hart and Barry are among those to have also attracted bad headlines under Roberto Mancini. The latter two appear to have learned from coverage of their drinking escapade in Scotland but Tevez has been a running sore all season, while Balotelli goes from one scrape to another. It was not he who set off fireworks in his bathroom, but it was emblematic; clubbing before a match, crashing his car, gatecrashing press conferences in Italy, fights at training... none of this is helpful.
City have World Cup-winners and finalists in their ranks, and internationals everywhere, but they lack United's experience in the Premier League marathon. Only Kolo Touré and Clichy, six years ago, and Tevez have won the English title. Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Touré have won major leagues overseas, but Ryan Giggs has more championship medals than all City's squad put together. This matters, as Sir Alex Ferguson noted yesterday: "Experience counts right through the team, not just with Rio [Ferdinand] but with [Patrice] Evra, Giggs, [Paul] Scholes and [Michael] Carrick. Those five represent players who are on top of their job." It is not a boast that Mancini can make at present.
Opponents have got wise
Manchester City romped to a series of high-scoring away victories in the autumn but then opponents got wise. At The Hawthorns on Boxing Day West Bromwich Albion sat back, sought to pick City off on the break and could have won what ended as a goalless draw. Six days later, Sunderland snatched a last-minute win on Wearside after a similar rearguard performance. The template was set. Since Christmas, City have scored three goals and conceded four in seven away games; their results are in binary code: 0-0, 1-0, 0-1, 1-0, 0-1, 1-0, 1-1.
Exhaustion and loss of form
All those millions and still Mancini does not seem to have enough players, not enough to cover for Vincent Kompany when injured or suspended, and not enough to rest the likes of David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Yaya Touré, all of whom have shown signs of tiredness as the season has gone relentlessly on. Dzeko should not be tired, he has only completed 90 minutes 10 times, but he plays as if his season ended when Bosnia failed to reach Euro 2012 in November.
However furious they may be in private, British managers rarely criticise their players in public. When Wayne Rooney turned up at training the worse for wear, Ferguson dropped him but said little. The Italian approach, to judge from Fabio Capello and Mancini, is different. Barry, James Milner, Micah Richards and Samir Nasri are among those players who have been openly criticised, or embarrassingly substituted, by Mancini. What further irks them is that Balotelli, though admonished by Mancini, appears to be indulged by the manager as if he were a wayward, but favoured, son.
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