HOW many managers must have chuckled to hear Roberto Mancini lamenting his injury problems and pleading for time after seeing his Manchester City side’s title prospects exposed for what they are?
There must also be supporters who are surprised to see the Italian trying to chase games against packed defences with two holding midfielders and then admit he has to find a way of breaking down stubborn opposition.
Whether Mancini likes it or not, what has happened at Eastlands in the last two years has led to City being considered title challengers and time is something he does not have.
It is early days and we are still to really see Mario Balotelli and Aleksander Kolarov; Jerome Boateng is yet to make his debut while World Cup winner David Silva can’t get in the team.
But even in a Premier League where the top teams are expected to drop plenty of points once again, that the 3-0 victory over Liverpool remains City’s only win in four matches, sees Mancini’s side seven points behind Chelsea already.
The Italian may also have been without Emmanuel Adebayor, Nigel de Jong and Wayne Bridge but he was still able to bring on £55 million (€66 million) worth of substitutes, in Jo, Gareth Barry and Silva.
Rovers were thumped 4-1 at Eastlands in the early days of Mancini’s reign in January and had City scored first, a similar scoreline looked a formality but they still look to be a team that is easily nullified, which is being highlighted by the greater respect they are being shown.
While they had plenty of efforts on goal, even Sam Allardyce maintained that Paul Robinson, despite rave reviews, had not gone beyond what was expected of him.
And although Adam Johnson was outstanding once again, with James Milner struggling in the middle alongside Yaya Toure and Patrick Vieira, they did not have the cutting edge to break down a team that is as organised as it is limited.
“Every team will play with this method and we must find a solution. For Blackburn this was a good situation,” Mancini said. “They defended with lots of players and then looked to counter when they got the chance.
“Every game is going to be like this for us, like it is for Chelsea and Manchester United. And we must improve in these sort of situations. For us, as a team it is a new experience because normally when teams have come to Manchester City they have come to win. Now they come here trying to draw.”
In the past 24 months we have grown used to players signing in one transfer window and having their futures questioned the next, but the Silva situation is a bizarre one.
The Spanish winger has started just once in the Premier League since joining from Valencia for £24m and is currently playing second fiddle to Shaun Wright-Phillips.
With City desperate for a second goal, Silva was given five minutes but Mancini is adamant there is nothing sinister in the new signing’s omissions, blaming the international breaks that affected almost all of his other players, and hinting he will be given a chance at Red Bull Salzburg.
Mancini added: “I thought he did very well when he came on. We’ve only been able to work with Silva for a couple of days since he arrived but from the next game it will be time for him to play in the team.”
Shay Given will not be moving from the bench despite the Joe Hart error that led to Blackburn’s goal. Morten Gamst Pedersen aimlessly knocked the ball up-field and, racing 15 yards out of his area, Hart told Kolo Toure he would deal with it but missed, allowing Nikola Kalinic to capitalise and score.
After the restart, Vieira prodded City level after laying off to Carlos Tevez and getting on the end the Argentinian’s cross to the near post. But despite the pressure and possession, there was no second, allowing Blackpool to move two points above them.
Blackburn’s giant defender Chris Samba claims City’s mentality is nothing compared to what has been fostered by Sam Allardyce since December 2008.
“You know what is happening at Man City with them spending big money and massive wages but football is more than that, you have to believe that and we have shown that,” Samba said. “Of course it is normal that to attract the best players they have to pay the big wages but team spirit is something you can’t buy.
“It has been very hard work from the manager to bring the players together and now we are a couple of years together we showed how important desire and team spirit is. That is the same no matter who you are and how much money you have got.”
Man of the match: Chris Samba (Blackburn) – No longer linked with big moves but the big man just gets better and better. Combines incredible power and size with the desire of Dennis Wise. His last-ditch defending was crucial.
Match rating: *** – Not memorable for its quality and had City scored first it could have been embarrassing but Blackburn were rewarded for their organisation. A great contest that raises more questions about City’s credentials.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear) 8 – City had the usual moans about Blackburn’s approach but Clattenburg did nothing wrong.
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