By Wayne Veysey at Etihad Stadium
It may be too late for Manchester City to successfully defend their Premier League title, but Roberto Mancini still has time to save his job.
A highly creditable 2-0 win over Chelsea had the dual benefit of maintaining City’s strangle-hold on the runners-up spot and helping to re-establish Mancini’s authority.
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However, Mancini has been on football’s treadmill for too long to feel completely concrete in his position.
The Italian’s place in City folklore might be secure but, however proud he may be of his track record at the club where he was handed a five-year contract last summer, his seat in the dug-out does not share the same permanence.
Mancini’s body language shortly after the final whistle demonstrated how much this victory meant to him. He strode on to the pitch to congratulate his weary but elated players one by one. They were either slapped on the back or gently cuffed around the head.
Like Rafael Benitez, his dug-out opponent on Sunday afternoon, Mancini does not believe in ‘touch-feely’ management or pandering to the insecurities or egos of the players under his command.
As he explained in a fascinating interview earlier in the week, elite footballers must be strong enough to be questioned, privately or even publicly, by the man who picks the team.
“I think every player should be strong enough to take his responsibility and, like this, you can improve. You don't improve if you have a manager saying 'aah, don't worry, you made a mistake but it doesn't matter,'" explained Mancini of his management philosophy.
Joe Hart and Samir Nasri were criticised – not for the first time, it should be noted – in this latest interview but, in truth, there are few who the Italian regards as belonging to the top bracket who are safe from his occasionally acerbic tongue.
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The 48-year-old points out fairly frequently that the results speak for themselves. His annoyance at other managers being linked to his job – Jose Mourinho and Malaga manager Manuel Pellegrini are the two names most frequently mentioned now Pep Guardiola is Munich-bound – is clear.
"I don't understand it. Seriously, for what reason? Since we started to win, in May 2011, Manchester City are the best team in England, are they not? We won three trophies, Manchester United two, Chelsea two, Liverpool one. No other team has won more than us.
"Now we are in second position and still in the FA Cup. W e hope we can win the league and never say never but if we finish second, OK, we made some mistakes but we have still done a good job surely if, in three years, we have finished second, first, second. So I don't understand it. I could if we had won nothing for three years. It would be difficult for me to stay then. I couldn't stay in a team where I wasn't doing a good job. But I have done a good job here."
Mancini may be making a good fist of airbrushing consecutive disastrous Champions League campaigns but he has a reasonable point.
Sure, he has benefited from the kind of resources available to few managers in modern world football but he has kept to his brief of establishing City as a mighty force at home, if not yet abroad.
The Italian also took the opportunity to point the finger at old enemy Brian Marwood, the man he felt was chiefly responsible for last summer's generally underwhelming acquisitions.
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The failure to sign Robin van Persie is well documented, and Mancini will feel that, with proper support from the boardroom this summer, he can deliver the title once again.
Should City end the season strongly and finish in the top two for a third consecutive year, the club’s Barcelona executive team and Abu Dhabi high command are likely to ignore the seductive qualities of Mourinho and conclude that Mancini does indeed deserve another season at the helm.
A second successful FA Cup campaign in three years – a home quarter-final tie against Barnsley awaits – would only enhance the manager’s case in the eyes of his employers.
Even so, while the fans have made up their minds on Mancini, it is reasonable to assume that the board have not.
In a results business, it is those all-important outcomes that will decide Mancini's fate. He knows that better than anyone.
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