Mancini's defensive instincts are stifling City's goal threat

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 February, 2011, 12:00am

Q: What's the difference between Manchester City and Blackpool?

A: One hundred times the budget, double the defensive midfielders and one-third the number of strikers.

You would never know that Manchester City are England's richest club when it comes to setting out their stall on the field.

Roberto Mancini's insistence on putting caution before adventure despite a stockpile of multi-million pound attacking weapons has many observers scratching their heads.

Even earnest Premier League strugglers like Blackpool and West Bromwich Albion, who sometimes start with three up front, tend to produce more attractive football than the cashed-up Citizens.

After their defeat in the Manchester derby, where they paid the price for their early profligacy, City drew blanks midweek in the Europa League as they struggled to a 0-0 draw in Greece.

While it is true that Aris Salonika have never been beaten at the Kleanthis Vikelidis Stadium in 40 years on the European stage, the fact is that they have slipped to eighth place in the Greek Super League without a home victory in their last three domestic games. The likes of Olympiakos and Panionios have trashed this once formidable fortress in the last month.

At last, Mancini briefly relaxed his defensive instincts in the second half. When Mario Balotelli was sent on with 14 minutes remaining, it was the first time he had teamed up with Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko and David Silva in a forward line costing just over GBP100 million.

Yet seven minutes later, Dzeko was subbed off for full-back Pablo Zabaleta as City failed to produce a valuable away goal.

With their Premier League title bid all but over as they trail Manchester United by eight points despite having played a game more, third-placed City are now in search of consolation silverware in the Europa League and FA Cup.

And there's no guarantee Mancini's men will even finish in the top four with Tottenham, Chelsea and the improving Liverpool giving chase.

'So far, given the squad that he has, Roberto Mancini is under-achieving at Manchester City,' said Asia-based Dutch coach Robert Alberts. 'He's a really Italian-style coach and he needs to quickly adapt to the English game, which is quite different to the other leagues in Europe.

'If the owners of the club say that by this season, 'We want results', he's out. If they say, 'You've got two-three years to build the best team in England' then he's in.'

Amsterdam-born Alberts is a former Ajax player who has coached championship-winning teams in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

He added that Mancini could certainly adapt some of the principles of so-called Dutch 'total football' to his current approach at Eastlands.

'When you see Man City play, there's a lot of ball movement and individual movement and good skills combined with technique, but the penetration to the goal takes too much time,' Alberts said.

'They've got the players and the combination but they need too many touches to be effective. I would like to see fewer touches to make this team improve.

'Everybody learns from everybody. Dutch football is a more direct approach while Italian football has more back passing, more square passing.'

The acquisition of former Bundesliga top-scorer Dzeko from Wolfsburg last month pushed Manchester City's recent spending towards ?300 million.

The big dilemma now is how best to utilise the so-called Bosnian Diamond alongside captain Tevez and wild child Balotelli.

The over-reliance on their Argentine skipper is reflected on the club's league scoring charts with Tevez's 18 goals leading Balotelli with five (albeit from only nine appearances during an injury-plagued campaign). Despite his outstanding season so far, ex-Valencia winger Silva has netted just twice in 25 matches. Even with Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz out on loan, City can still call on bench-warming Brazil international Jo. Under-used England international winger Adam Johnson is currently sidelined with an ankle injury.

But instead of obsessing over which combination of forwards to start with - assuming that Mancini will 'daringly' abandon his tendency to go with Tevez up front on his own - Alberts believes he should focus on building around a chemistry that already exists in his starting line-up.

'Tevez and Silva is a natural combination and they have an instinct together because they can easily open up defences, even one like Manchester United's,' he said.

'To me it's not a question of the combination of Tevez and the other strikers - it's one of Tevez and Silva. If I had them with me as a coach, I would build around them.'

Mancini has created a kind of siege mentality at Eastlands, complaining that Britain's press is constantly sniping at his team and that many neutrals are against them because they threaten to disrupt the status quo of the same big three or four clubs in England.

In his view, it's only a matter of time before City are one of the top clubs in Europe. But with all their flashes of brilliance and occasional entertainment value, the so-called spirit within the squad seems a tad contrived. Many of City's players have still yet to convince purists that they are treating a club so steeped in history as anything more than a bottomless ATM machine.

Alberts said City's chances of sustainable success could hinge on two factors - chemistry and an attacking mindset.

'Remember how Real Madrid had the best team in the world yet couldn't win trophies... you can have a good coach and good players and yet some of the players don't gel together,' Alberts said. 'Mancini could play more attack-minded and maybe get some better results.'

The former Inter boss's argument has always been that if you keep a clean sheet, you have a better chance of winning.

But as valuable as the likes of Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong, Yaya Toure and Patrick Vieira all might be, an abundance of defensive midfielders shouldn't be allowed to shackle what is a potentially potent force.