Mancini given new reason to splash out
The City manager may not be allowed to buy but his squad looks in need of reinforcements
The sound and the fury was beginning to abate and Roberto Mancini had just fielded his last question – from Gazzetta dello Sport, wanting to know about his transfer market plans – when he revealed a preoccupation undiminished by his side's fighting FA Cup recovery.
"I don't want to talk about the market because every time I say I need a player I have a problem," he said. "Real Madrid and Barcelona have been the best teams in Europe for some time and they still buy players."
It appears Mancini's very transparent comments, last Thursday morning, about the need to reinforce with at least one player this month may not have gone down too well at a club which has reported £195m losses and knows the strictures of Uefa's financial fair play. But yesterday's events helped us understand a little more about what he meant.
Even heading into the match, Mancini had needed two of his elite development squad players on the bench and was equipped with a single striker and two recognised central midfielders. Yaya Touré, now immersed in the African Cup of Nations and out for this month, is "not replacable," the manager has said. Now, Mancini is also likely to be without Vincent Kompany for four – possible five – games and, with Kolo Touré on the same tour of duty as his brother, City have only Joleon Lescott and the inexperienced Stefan Savic in central defence.
Some basic research would have told Mancini that Chris Foy, who has issued six red cards in 17 games, was not an official to be tested on the rulebook but any challenge made with two feet always comes with the heaviest risk. Kompany's judgement was lacking, however dubious a dismissal seems when no physical contact has been made.
Mancini, privately pessimistic about how financial fair play will tie his hands, is unlikely to seek reinforcements in central defence since the players he considers world -class are not available. He may have to determine whether the decision to hold onto Nedum Onuoha and Pablo Zabaleta may now assume new significance.
But yesterday will have heightened the itch to add to midfield – Nigel de Jong's performance will have done little to diminish Mancini's enthusiasm for Roma's Daniele de Rossi. Indeed, De Jong's second-half challenge on Michael Carrick was not much less dangerous than Kompany's and there is an abiding sense that he has lost the bite when he needs it. The Dutchman decided that the new contract offered to him last summer was not lucrative enough for the fulcrum of City, which he perceives himself to be. His failure to make any challenge on Danny Welbeck, as he volleyed United into a 2-0 lead, illustrated why City aren't rushing for a resolution to that situation. De Rossi, unlike De Jong, can make a dangerous offensive pass, too.
For all that, the effervescence of City's second-half display showed Mancini's belief in his club's ability to displace the champions is not at all misplaced. James Milner has been one of the unexpected success stories of the season and was running into some dangerous space before Kompany's dismissal forced Mancini to clip his wings. He, rather than Samir Nasri, was the one both holding midfield and pushing on.
Mancini, too, looks a manager with a side playing entirely to his tune. His bold, second-half 3-4-2 formation – wing backs Micah Richards and Kolarov shuffling back with discipline into a five-man rearguard when City were not in possession – elevated the manager a long way above complaints of stereotypically Italian negativity, surely outdated now. The cameras did not reveal the way Mancini leapt up to insist his midfield push tighter on United's in the last minute of the game. It almost led them to steal a late goal.
The squad Mancini takes into the significant segment of the season is looking a little thin around the edges, though, and Uefa has dictated there is no longer an abundance of money to throw at it. So the ultimate test of Mancini's ingenuity is yet to come.
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