By Tim Poole
As Roberto Mancini and David Platt emerged from the tunnel for the second half of their Premier League clash against Everton on Saturday lunchtime, the long-time Manchester City aficionados appeared to be deep in heated discussion.
Trailing 1-0 at Goodison Park, Mancini had elected not to make any half-time changes – and the more presumptuous among us could jump to the conclusion that Platt was rightly berating him for the questionable and arguably complacent decision.
But with injuries to skipper Vincent Kompany, midfield powerhouse Yaya Toure and star forward Sergio Aguero laying City’s squad bare, was there anyone on the bench who could actually make a difference?
An even more telling consideration is whether the Premier League champions had anyone on the field of play ready to deliver in the first place. Indeed, perhaps what Mancini and Platt were actually debating was which of their misfiring stars would be leaving Manchester in the summer.
This season, City have gained seven points fewer than at the same point last term. They also have four fewer wins to their name and five more draws. They have been second since November 23.
Apologists may argue that victory in the FA Cup would maintain their reputation as one of the dominant figures in English football, but with such talent and lavish funds at their behest, can a single domestic cup win paper over a campaign that sees them trail United by 15 points?
Where was Carlos Tevez? And where was Eden Dzeko? The forward duo have amassed 28 goals in all competitions between them so far this campaign but all too often they have gone missing on the big occasions. Saturday was just one of many cases in point.
The buck does not stop with City’s ailing strikeforce, though. Questions will be asked about Gareth Barry – whose most telling contribution in recent weeks was an own goal against Southampton – as well as James Milner, Kolo Toure and Jolean Lescott as their contracts run their course. Surely none of these players are deserving of extending their stay at the Etihad Stadium.
And then there are the likes of Samir Nasri, who failed to make any sort of impact coming on as a second-half substitute, and Scott Sinclair – whose five minute cameo illustrated what a painstaking error it was to move to Manchester in the first place.
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At Goodison, Marouane Fellaini, Leon Osman, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman made City look average. There was not even a hint of doubt that the Toffees could stroll to their fourth home win in a row against Mancini’s side with consummate ease. That isn’t supposed to happen to champions.
What City need is new blood. Mancini entered Friday’s press conference sporting a red nose but his players have for too long left him red faced as another humiliating group stage exit in the Champions League and a stuttering attempt to retain their Premier League crown have exposed no shortage of flaws in the Italian’s faltering squad.
Last season’s dramatic success was built on work-rate, dedication and a never-say-die attitude. This season’s mediocrity has been symbolised by indifference.
To Mancini’s credit, City will still post their second highest ever points tally and finish runners-up if they avoid a total collapse, while the heroics of yesteryear will certainly not be forgotten by the fans nor those who make the decisions at the top.
But patience will soon run out if City continue to stall on their potential. An FA Cup trophy two years ago followed by a league title represented progress and promised so much. Now, though, the future does not look so bright.
Mancini simply must act. This season’s title race may be a foregone conclusion but the summer squad overhaul many quarters are demanding can ensure that next term's does not go the same way.
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