Roberto Mancini's sinking ship at City

Posted by Ian Darke

Something seems very wrong at Manchester City, judged by the lethargic, error-strewn display at Southampton that was almost too bad to be true. Manager Roberto Mancini, who has been blaming everyone but himself, might be struggling to hold on to his job come the end of this hugely disappointing season.

Only readers of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales will believe this title race was not effectively finished by the weekend’s developments that left Manchester United 12 points clear atop the table with 12 matches to play.

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Of course, mathematicians will point out that City came from a seemingly impossible position to wear the crown last season. But it is worth remembering that they were aided and abetted by a bewildering implosion by United on the run-in, and Sir Alex Ferguson rarely makes the same mistake twice.

It might be possible to believe in miracles if there was anything in City's form to inspire even a shred of confidence. But they were largely outplayed by Liverpool the previous week and, frankly, took a battering from a superb Southampton, who looked twice as hungry and two yards faster all over the field.

You have to question the desire of these high earners, some of whom look as if their appetite was satisfied by last season's success. The team looks heavy-legged and lacking in fire and energy.

Last season's big performers have not come to the party in the same way, either. Captain Vincent Kompany, such a rock in defence in the title win, has cut a more uncertain figure this time as Mancini has meddled with his defensive systems.

David Silva, the midfield magician and catalyst, has only fitfully displayed his full repertoire of tricks.

Samir Nasri was invisible at Southampton, and that happens rather too often. Gareth Barry's own goal at St. Mary's will haunt him for weeks. And while Sergio Aguero is still capable of moments of genius -- such as his equaliser against Liverpool -- neither he nor Carlos Tevez are in the type of scoring form that wins championships.

Only the outstanding Pablo Zabaleta and, to some extent, striker Eden Dzeko can be exempted from cricticism.

Mancini is right to point a finger at City's poor transfer market dealings last summer. None of the signings has done much to improve the team, though young defender Matija Nastasic is clearly a big prospect.

Javi Garcia has improved from a poor start, but looks slow across the ground. The once-feared Brazilian Maicon just looks like a shadow of his former self.

And winger Scott Sinclair has been given so few chances that you wonder why City bothered to buy him.

But while too many players have been more than a beat down on last year (there have even been a few howlers from keeper Joe Hart), the manager has to look at himself in the mirror. City were humiliated in the Champions League and it looks as if this campaign will end in simply making sure a top four Premier League finish is secured. Even that task needs some attention.

Lurking in the background are questions about motivation, tactics and hunger that Mancini needs to address. The Italian is probably facing a big task in persuading demanding owners that he is still the right man shake City out of their current sleepwalking.

A hangover from last year? Perhaps. But City should have packed the champagne away some time ago. It is the club's fans who need a stiff drink right now.

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