Eastlands: where a clean sheet is “holy” – De Jong

ROBERTO MANCINI has spent hundreds of millions of his owner’s pounds assembling some of the best attacking talent in the football world at Manchester City; the only question is how much we will see of them as the pragmatic Italian continues to preside over his Eastlands revolution.

Events involving Mancini this week seem to have set out a clear blueprint at the world’s wealthiest club.

Having fielded a woefully weakened, and inept, team at West Brom in their Carling Cup exit on Wednesday, Mancini was indicating that the second domestic cup competition is of no interest to him.

Then, curiously, he chose his pre-match press conference to announce that he believed Chelsea would retain their league title “easily” this season.

Not even Carlos Tevez’s winning goal could sway Mancini from that view, which points to the simple fact that the manager’s primary – possibly only – target this season is to ensure City qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Such a policy fails to take into account that the club’s long-suffering fans, having waited 35 years for a trophy, might actually quite like the idea of a day out at Wembley next year in a meaningful cup final, even if Mancini decrees the Carling Cup beneath his club’s status.

And, given that his solitary aim is a top four finish, there will also be a great emphasis on defence, in keeping with Mancini’s Italian roots.

“Everybody knows what kind of manager he is and where he has come from,” said Nigel de Jong, one of three holding, defensive midfielders now regularly employed by Mancini in front of his back four. “He has come from a country where defence is number one and he has brought that mentality with him from Italy to Manchester.

“It took time but the main focus for him is get the defence right because he knows we have enough quality to score goals – especially at home.

“You could see that against Chelsea. The organisation at the back was good and it just took time to score a goal.

“That’s what he preaches. That is always his message to us: make sure we don’t concede. Everybody knows what is happening here at City, that we have enough quality to score a goal.

“I think it is the mindset of every player in the team. The belief is there. I don’t want to say the belief wasn’t there under Mark Hughes but as I have said already with the manager coming from Italy defence is number one.

“He spends more time on the training pitch with the defenders to get them to realise that a clean sheet is holy.

“We’ve still got players either out injured or on their way back from injuries. It will take time but this was a very important step towards the future.”

It is worth recalling, of course, that one of Carlo Ancelotti’s predecessors, Jose Mourinho, was regularly criticised for a “boring” modus operandi, as he was leading Chelsea to their first Premier League titles and laying a bedrock which has hardly done him, or Chelsea, any harm.

Still, a goal difference of 7-2 after six games gives a clear indication of the style of football we can expect from Mancini and City. That is a shame for neutrals who might quite like to see the attacking skills of Tevez, Adam Johnson, David Silva or Emmanuel Adebayor showcased on a regular basis. Instead, we can look forward to more of how Chelsea were defeated – graft from the back four, tough tackling and strength in midfield and City playing on the counter-attack.

Not that the result shifted Mancini’s view that the title already belongs to Chelsea although, thankfully, his players do not share that negative outlook and believe Saturday’s victory gives them hope of doing better than “only” qualifying for the Champions League.

“This shows that Chelsea are not robots,” added de Jong. “Everybody is beatable – we’ve lost one and drawn a couple of games ourselves and it is that unpredictability that makes it fun to play in the Premier League.

“But this is a good message to send out to all the other teams that when they visit this ground they have to come with 200% dedication.”

The defending champions, without injured Frank Lampard and Yossi Benayoun, looked curiously vulnerable, particularly in midfield where newcomer Ramires was woefully lightweight, slow of foot and mind and simply overwhelmed by de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure.

Worse yet, Didier Drogba was substituted with 16 minutes left after an ineffective outing. Ancelotti’s explanation that he did so only to inject more pace into his attack was as unconvincing as his defence of Ramires.

“Ramires had a good performance,” claimed Ancelotti. “He tried to push up with the ball, he tried to have penetration. His performance was good.

“The message for the players was very easy. When we play as individuals, we lose; when we play as a team, we win.”


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