Elite players should be able to seamlessly adapt to tactical switches, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini said Friday, rebutting concerns raised by right-back Micah Richards over Mancini's preference to play with three center-backs.
"Good players should be able to play in any system," said Mancini. "If you are a top player, the system is not important. If you don't understand you are not a top player and you cannot play for a top team.
"Maybe Micah doesn't know this because it is his first game. He has been out for two and a half months and has worked less than the other players," Mancini said. "Maybe the next time we play this system Micah can stay on the bench and we will play with another player. But what Micah said is not important. He answered one stupid question."
The City boss held his hands up for his failure in preparation ahead of Wednesday night's shock 3-1 Champions League defeat to Ajax in Amsterdam as the team gets ready to face Swansea City (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET) at the Etihad Stadium.
He still accepts responsibility for a result that leaves the Blues requiring a "miracle" to avoid tumbling out at the group stage for the second successive season, but he said the formation switch was not to blame for the loss.
The move to three at the back had catastrophic consequences, leaving substituted Joleon Lescott fuming, Gael Clichy appealing for guidance about exactly where he was supposed to be playing, City conceding a third goal and Micah Richards conducting a post-match interview where he confirmed his teammates were ill at ease with the tactical switch.
Mancini said he has used the system before.
"In pre-season we only had 10 senior players," he said. "But I wasn't changing anything. It is difficult to watch from the stand when we change the system but we have used this a lot of times during games last season, a minimum of 50 times. We were 2-1 down and we wanted to improve the situation.
"With this system we beat Chelsea 3-2 in the Community Shield," he said. "With this system we recovered from 3-0 down against United, got back to 3-2 and had a chance to draw with only 10 players. With this system we have changed the result every time."
Not this time though, as City's previously watertight defense continues to leak goals. The team has now conceded 22 goals in 13 games in all competitions, eight fewer than the time it took last term.
City has a single clean sheet to its name, compared to five at the same stage 12 months ago.
"The problem is that we are continuing to concede too many goals," said Mancini. "In the Premier League you have a chance to recover because the season is long. In the Champions League no. If you have a chance to score or close the game out you should."
To change their European fortunes, City would at least need to win the remaining three games.
"You think we can go down after one defeat? I don't think so," he said. "We are strong enough for this. Any team can lose a game. It is important we understand why and what mistakes we made. From this we can improve and maybe in the next game we won't make them again."
Information from Press Association was used in this report.