Mancini's hairdryer treatment
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Manchester City: Smart Alec
Was Roberto Mancini's selection of Mario Balotelli for the Manchester derby just another part of a vanity project? Alongside the scarf and the hairdryer, the choosing of his temperamental compatriot was a decision that made sense only to him, with Carlos Tevez going from in-form to fall guy.
Of course, when Mario was hauled off just minutes into the second half, some spluttered and couldn't wait to scrawl yet another chapter in the Balotelli fable following his so-called diabolical showing.
In fact, he did not play as badly as the hyperbole would have you believe. And so the narrative following City's first Premier League defeat of the season - and their first at home in the league since they lost to Everton in December 2010 - should not have been about the man who drives a camouflaged Bentley. No, the blame should have lain at the door of Mancini, the man who must defend their domestic crown following an embarrassingly poor showing in the Champions League.
A trip to Newcastle United - opponents desperately out of form - awaits Mancini and his men on Saturday lunchtime. The Magpies have notched only one win in seven outings, with five of those games ending in defeat, so perhaps this will prove to be the ideal opportunity for the champions to get back on track. Indeed, City have fond recent memories of St James' Park, as the corresponding fixture last campaign proved decisive in the title race as Yaya Toure took the match by the scruff of the neck prior to the big finale versus QPR.
Queens Park Rangers: Doomed?
This is getting a bit silly now. QPR are 16 (sixteen) top-flight fixtures without a victory, a record for the longest winless start to a Premier League season. Plainly, the burden of the blame is not with new manager Harry Redknapp, but his first three games in charge, against Sunderland, Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic, were all winnable. One wonders whether those missed opportunities have already condemned Rangers, who invested so much in the summer, to the drop, despite it being only December.
The chance for a first win in SEVENTEEN comes against Fulham this weekend, with the Cottagers tepid having been off the boil of late - their win over Newcastle on Monday was a first in eight attempts. And with owner Tony Fernandes branding their season "nothing short of a disaster" the pressure dial is already turned to 'downright sweaty' ahead of three (on paper) easier fixtures before they take on Liverpool, Chelsea then Tottenham after Christmas.
Reading v Arsenal: Lose-lose
Arsenal continue to write themselves into this weekly column, such is their knack for recording new low after new low - it is as though they are partaking in their very own game of limbo, but instead of applause for each low surpassed, the reaction is a cocktail of tears and bile.
After their genuine humiliation (with all due respect to Bradford, who were excellent and worthy of their win) in the League Cup in midweek, the calls for Arsene Wenger to step down have got louder and have also begun to emanate from parties with more considered views than the knee-jerkers.
The repercussions of struggling Reading inflicting defeat on the Gunners on Monday would be quite something - Twitter might just swallow itself in a torrent of rage/laughter.
Wenger was typically, frustratingly, shamefully defensive of his players after their loss in Yorkshire, and that was what most got up the noses of the Arsenal contingent - well, that and the spineless performance of a crop of players of whom some are arguably not fit to scrub the boots of Arsenal legends to have played under Wenger in the past.
For Reading, too, matters are looking bleak. To travel to non-scorers Sunderland and concede three sets off alarm bells so loud that the ears begin to bleed Santa red. Brian McDermott's men are now six points from safety and, speaking after the Sunderland result, the manager's admission that he is already looking ahead to the January transfer window is not a great sign.
"The club made a decision in the summer - we didn't invest in the summer," he said. "We all know that January is a difficult window. We are fighting a battle here. That will be down to the owner to see where we are at. I believe we need to do that."
Tottenham: Attention span
When people discover a half-interesting statistic, they grab it with both hands and wave it about for all it's worth. Spurs have the following: If Premier League games had ended at 80 minutes this season, Andre Villas-Boas and his men would be top... but they have conceded 40% of their goals in the final 15 minutes.
Gallingly for their boss, following an upturn in form which sees them in fifth spot, their habit of late collapses threatens to become a psychological problem that could persist despite AVB's attempts to stress that is not the case.
West Brom: Grinding to a halt
Having lost three on the spin off the back of four consecutive victories, it appears that the wheels might be about to come off West Brom's impressive start to the campaign.
Along their merry way this season, manager Steve Clarke has kept calm about the unexpected rise, understandably exuding clichés such as "one game at a time". It was as if he knew this slump would come - but, despite their recent stagnation, they are still sixth in the table, just three points below Chelsea. The key now is to halt the decline, for it is easier to tumble down a hill than climb up it. A chance to slam on the brakes comes at home to West Ham on Sunday.