There's a saying "never drive when angry." To add my own Poulter twist I try to make a point of never writing when angry. Hence a 24-hour cool down before I started even thinking about the Liverpool game. The sheer utter ineptitude was staggering and more importantly it flew in the face of everything Mancini has been trying to do with City all year.
The overriding priority this season has been qualifying for the Champions League. It has seen the club bow out of the League Cup by playing a second string, it has seen Mancini park the bus at Arsenal and play for a draw at home against Manchester United. It has been a mind numbing boring pursuit in search of the top four. Nothing else matters. Not the Europa League nor the FA Cup.
And Monday, Mancini stood that all on its head by sending out a formation and team selection that was so stupendously wrong that it boggles the mind. Carlos Tevez is neither Cityâ€™s best player nor its most important. Those are David Silva and Nigel de Jong. Silva is fast becoming the best player ever to wear a City shirt and his vision is crucial to any success that City will have this year. Nigel de Jong is the most important because he not only plays well, but his positioning and tenacity force clubs to play to Vincent Kompanyâ€™s strengths turning the Belgian into a force in that back. But only when de Jong plays. Cityâ€™s weakness is that it cannot, with the current personnel, play a straight back four. City could have, should have, parked the bus against Liverpool and played for a point.
Instead City set up in a 4-4-2 with Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry in the middle and James Milner and Adam Johnson on the outside. Regardless of other tactical nuance, this is a complete waste of Milner and particularly so in this game where Liverpool had a debutant right full-back in John Flanagan. Johnsonâ€™s direct dribbling runs are the stuff of nightmares for a full-back so why on earth wasnâ€™t Johnson on the left and Milner on the right if Milner must play on a wing? As has been evident in about a half a dozen games this season, City could kill for the inclusion of Craig Bellamy in a match day squad at the moment. But regardless against the likes of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez playing without de Jong was capitulation. You could play this game a thousand times with that team and formation and City would lose every single time.
What is so, so frustrating about this is that reports indicate that neither Silva nor de Jong were injured. They were rested ahead of the FA Cup semi-final against United. Iâ€™d love for City to win the FA Cup, and to beat United along the way would make it sweeter. Indeed I may be in the minority of club supporters in that given a choice Iâ€™d rather win the FA Cup than qualify for the Champions League. But you donâ€™t spend the entire season managing with a singularity of purpose to then suddenly be dazzled by the bright lights of the FA Cup. Getting a point from Liverpool was more important that having Silva and de Jong at their best for the game against United. At that crucial season defining moment, Mancini lost the plot.
The irony is that Mancini is doing a phenomenal job at the moment. You donâ€™t under any circumstances, regardless of how much money is involved, throw a team together and have instant success. City usually start five players who werenâ€™t with the club this time last year. To have the club in the top four at this point in the season is an incredible accomplishment. We wonâ€™t see the team actually work as a team for another year. If Blackpool stay up, Ian Holloway is the Manager of the Year, hands down. Mancini is a close second for getting this squad into position one year ahead of any reasonable schedule. But Monday night was a shocker. Wrong players, wrong tactics, and wrong formation; in any circumstances, but with the fight for Champions League places becoming tighter by the game this was not the timeâ€¦
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