Friday, October 26, 2012
City will recover from Dutch debacle
Manchester City's performance against Ajax on Wednesday was a disaster that leaves them in real danger of failing to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage. It was a really disappointing, poor display, although - not for the first time during his time at City - Roberto Mancini honourably came out and took the blame for picking the wrong team and changing the tactics.
As expected, he sounded bitterly, bitterly disappointed after the match and it's a difficult situation when your players are coming out and saying that they didn't really know what they were doing. Too often, though, players take the easy way out and look at the bench as if to say 'What do I do?'
Really good, experienced players should know what to do, as Mancini said when quizzed on the situation at his press conference on Friday. When I got to 25, 26 years old and was captaining sides and captaining my country, I didn't have to look over to Ron Greenwood or Don Revie for guidance - that's why you are out there as a player.
A great side - and City are not there yet - has got to have five great players, while the other six can be soldiers, workhorses. City certainly didn't have five great players on the pitch in Amsterdam, and they were made to look quite ordinary at times by an inexperienced, but enthusiastic and clever, Ajax side. It was a particularly difficult game for the fans who made the trip to watch, although I was actually surprised with the lack of travelling numbers. It's another example that money is a massive issue for the average football supporter - the UK may have just come out of a double-dip recession but the triple-whammy of three Champions League away games is a lot to ask. A season ticket, plus all the travelling costs, the hotels, the beers... it's tough.
Those who did travel did not witness just one player struggling but the whole lot of them. Vincent Kompany is one who has had a really poor start to the season. He was exceptional last year and for me he was City's main man, but he's come back after the summer and looked a shadow of himself. When that's happening to your captain, it's a worry. Then you've got Joleon Lescott, whose confidence must be affected as he's been used so sporadically. First he's in, then he's out - it's a difficult time for him. Big things were expected from Edin Dzeko against Ajax after his match-winning double at West Brom last week, but once again when he was given the chance from the start he didn't look as good as he has done as an impact player off the bench.
To be honest, sometimes it doesn't matter how good a manager you are, your team will have bad days at the office like that. Unfortunately, when it's in a Champions League game that you really have to win, it is magnified massively. Winning the Premier League last season just bought City a ticket to a more difficult fight. If you are a boxer winning the world championship, the bouts are only going to get harder and it's the same in football as everyone wants to beat the champ. The press will be piling the pressure on Mancini if City don't progress through their Champions League group again, but he's just signed a new long-term contract. The owners have put their faith in him, and let's not forget he's won two trophies in two years. I think he will be given every chance.
With Swansea visiting Eastlands to play in front of the ESPN cameras this Saturday, Mancini and City have the perfect opportunity to respond immediately to the midweek disappointment. With my ties to the club, I obviously want Manchester City to do well and I'm expecting a massive reaction. It should be an easy job for Mancini to motivate those players; as a manager, and as a player, you are hungry to have the chance to go and put things right as soon as possible in the wake of the sort of disappointment they suffered in Amsterdam. Some changes are likely, with Carlos Tevez surely set to return to the starting line-up. You can understand the decision to rest him against Ajax after he ran his socks off for an hour while City played with ten men against West Brom last week, but he's got to play against Swansea.
Last season, Swansea endured a real baptism of fire at the Etihad Stadium in their first ever Premier League game, though admittedly they acquitted themselves well in a 4-0 defeat. Under Brendan Rodgers - and it has continued under Michael Laudrup - Swansea have won many admirers for their passing style, which helped them achieve their stand-out result of last season: a 1-0 victory over City at the Liberty Stadium.
Laudrup was an interesting appointment for Swansea. He was a great, and I really mean great, player and it shows the draw of the Premier League that he would want to come to a small club like Swansea having earned his spurs in Madrid with Getafe. He stamped his style of football on that club and when Swansea were discussing possible replacements for Brendan, the retention of their passing game would have formed a key part of the criteria.
Having a history as a successful player can be an advantage when you step into management because it means that any player you want to sign is more likely to at least talk to you, and then it's up to you to convince him of the club and the vision. Laudrup has already managed to use his excellent knowledge of La Liga to bring in astute additions like Michu and Pablo Hernandez - lads who have done well so far. It'll still be a major challenge to keep Swansea up because they don't have the resources but their team ethic is what can help them achieve their aim.
They've have had a decent start to the season on the whole, but it's important not to get carried away as you have to examine the quality of the opposition that they have faced. They play all of last season's top eight in their next ten games - after that we can better judge where Swansea stand.
I want to see them stay up and the positive start will have given them hope of surviving for another year but points will be hard to come by, and at the Etihad Stadium they really are at a premium. City have an imposing record of 53 games unbeaten at home in the league and though Swansea have proved people wrong in the past, I'm expecting a tough evening for them in Manchester.