Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has urged his players to keep their nerve and not be deflected by the flak that has been heading in their direction recently.
City emerged from yet another tumultuous week with a precious three points from their Premier League encounter with Tottenham on Sunday.
It allowed the champions to nudge themselves up to second in the Premier League, still unbeaten, and just two points adrift of Manchester United.
Not a bad situation for a club supposedly on the ropes after failing to overcome Ajax at home five days earlier, a result which has left their Champions League hopes hanging by the thinnest of threads.
Mancini’s behaviour around the Ajax tie was odd to say the least.
By the weekend, he returned to his normal affable character. And he needs his players to stay the same.
“There are some moments during any season when you don’t play well, you might concede goals you didn’t concede last year or maybe you are missing three or four important players,” said Mancini.
“At these moments it is important to stay calm and work hard. In football things can change quickly.”
The good news for Mancini is that his words are being echoed from inside the dressing room. Indeed, if the example of United is anything to go by, all the negativity surrounding them can end up being a significant positive.
“We have come a long way in the last four years and the expectations have changed,” said Pablo Zabaleta. “It’s normal when you win the title, people will knock you at the first opportunity.
“You are up there to be shot at and we take it all on the chin.
“It happens at other clubs. It’s just the way things are.”
Of course, the significant difference between United and City is the sheer control exerted on their respective clubs by Alex Ferguson and Mancini.
Whilst dissent at United is rare, at City trouble of some description always seems to be brewing.
At the weekend, for instance, Ferguson could have got away with leaving out a star player by putting it down to rotation. At City, Mario Balotelli’s appearance in the stand just triggered more rumours of a fallout with Mancini, amid further speculation about a transfer window move back to Italy.
“Mario was a technical choice,” said Mancini. “There was no fallout, just rest and recovery.”
Proof Mancini is more in control than circumstances make it appear came with confirmation a tactical rejig, to the three-man defensive system that was condemned by Micah Richards in Amsterdam last month, was directly responsible for Sunday’s comeback.
“We went three at the back. Unfortunately we won,” said Mancini, with more than a hint of irony.
That Edin Dzeko should score the late winner, following Sergio Aguero’s equaliser, merely opened up another avenue of attack given the Bosnian has already expressed his displeasure at spending so much time on the bench. Dzeko has now scored seven goals this season, two more than Carlos Tevez and three ahead of Sergio Aguero, who bagged the leveller to Steven Caulker’s early header.
Yet six of these have come from the bench, and four in the final 10 minutes to secure hugely important victories.
Still though, there can be no guarantee of a place in Mancini’s starting line-up for City’s home game against Aston Villa on Saturday. “I hope Edin can also score when he plays from the start,” said Mancini.
“If he scores when he plays from the start he’d get two or three goals because in 20 minutes he always gets a goal or two.”
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