Indecision reigns for Mancini as City crash at Ajax
October 25, 2012 in Europe
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on this website about how Man City’s strategy of four strikers was ultimately not about in strength in depth or giving City more options. It was about Mancini’s inability to make a decision. He doesn’t like to go all in behind an idea or a player, he wants options upon options upon options, in player personnel and in formation. Last night saw the worst indulgence of this instinct, as Mancini, at my count, used five formations in a 90-minute game – it’s possible that I could have missed one or two – and suffered the worst consequence of it. City looked a mess last night, outplayed for their third successive Champions League game, now sitting bottom of the Group of Death with one point from nine.
Mancini has looked out of depth in the Champions League before, with his three-time Scudetto winning, expensively assembled Inter team only making the quarter finals once, and things seem to be getting worse for him at City, as he stares down the barrel of a second consecutive Champions League exit at the group stage; if anything, in worse circumstances than last year, with City having to take 100% from their remaining three games and pray for a bizarre set of results in the other games. But in all likelihood, it’s over, and City have no excuses or olive branches. They’ve been outplayed in every game, are lucky to have the one point they hold, and Mancini, who radiates panic from the touchline, has looked hopelessly out of his depth at a level where gulf in player quality is no longer a significant advantage, and games have to be won with thought and nous. And when Mancini switched to a three at the back early in the second half, stubbornly reverting to a formation his defence has proved they aren’t comfortable with time and again, in response to conceding a daft and freakish goal from a corner…well, it was pure panic, changing something to change something. It put the kaput to any rhythm City had, and pretty soon Ajax scored again, putting the game to bed.
Ajax played a great game, their passing game was rehearsed and meticulous, and their young players rose to the occasion. But nonetheless, in the first half, City seemed to have them at arm’s length, taking a 1-0 lead until a late equalizer, and Ajax’s midfield looked like it could be dominated if one was up to the task. And in the opening ten minutes of the second half, this is what City did, and Ajax looked on the rocks. Then they scored from a corner, taking the lead and Mancini blew up the reservation. Now I can’t say for certain, but with my 20/20 hindsight, I think if Mancini had changed nothing, stayed calm and just let things go, City would have got at least a point, because the thing about this Ajax, and the thing that makes this result so significant, is that Ajax are not Dortmund. They had a passing game, but shouldn’t be beating this City team with ease in any circumstance. By the time it got to the point Mancini was playing a 4-2-4, it felt like he was throwing on all of his strikers to nowhere in particular and just hoping something stuck.
Mancini doesn’t seem to know what defensive layout he prefers, he doesn’t seem to know who his best two strikers are, he doesn’t seem to know where he wants to play Yaya Toure, who his first choice defensive midfield pair are, or what his first choice centre-back pairing is. There were answers to all these questions last year, and now Mancini, in insisting City be as variable as possible, seems to have deprived them of their core. There are other factors; Vincent Kompany ended last season a world beater and has begun this one a nervous wreck, presumably weighed down by all the praise and expectation he got over the summer. Yaya Toure seems to be absent from more games than he’s not, and David Silva, through injury or poor form, hasn’t been a regular figure. But the responsibility for the defeat last night falls to Mancini. He doesn’t seem to believe in the notion of a best 11, or the values of consistency in line-up, and that to get the best out of players sometimes you have to start them for more than two games in a row.
I don’t believe Mancini should be sacked, his domestic success puts paid to that, but the excessive rotating and tinkering is as plain as day having a negative effect on his team, and he’s not acknowledging these realities. Against Dortmund, he changed to the 3-5-2 five minutes into the second half, conceded immediately, and he switched back. Against Ajax, he changed to 3-5-2 five minutes into the second half, conceded immediately, and he changed it back. There is no defence of this. It’s just bad management. Mancini needs to decide what formation is his best and stick with it, and not change because one time, things went wrong. I’m a forgiving man, but City’s Champions League campaign this year is headed in the direction of a high-profile embarrassment. Make the second round or the quarters, and Mancini probably could have got away with a 2nd or 3rd place finish domestically, but now? He has a big Champions League-shaped blot on his CV he has to convince people to ignore. Winning the league again might be the only way to do that.