Roberto Mancini has cut a confused figure of late. Not long after announcing that the title race would be over if his Manchester City side slipped eight points behind rivals Manchester United in the title race – which the subsequently did – the Italian declared that it was still all to play for.
City then reduced the gap at the top to five points with a 4-0 win over West Brom while United stumbled to a shock defeat against Wigan - prompting Mancini to suggest that his side were incapable of making up the deficit to their rivals.
So is the former Inter Milan manager cracking up? And is he the right man to take City into the breach once more next season?
Mancini’s enigmatic half-smile has hidden a lot this season, but in recent weeks he has come across as irritable as the pressure from Manchester United’s form began to pile up.
Mario Balotelli has (deservedly) incurred much of Mancini’s wrath of late as the burden placed on him by renegade members of his squad begins to take its toll, but aside from his aloofness, the Italian has dealt with it well.
He was calm and humble following defeat against Arsenal which seemed to spell the end of City's title challange, although once more his insistence that one of his players wouldn’t play for City again may come back to haunt him.
His rival Sir Alex Ferguson is often lauded as the ‘mind game’ champion simply by replying to a comment – most likely because few teams have been able to stop his side winning the league over the years - but Mancini has stuck to the party line of respecting United without being drawn into a psychological battle
Arsene Wenger, a man who should know a thing or two about going up against Ferguson in a war of words, also believes Mancini has coped well.
"If it unsettles them then it can have an influence,” he said recently. "One famous example that the press always gives is [former Newcastle manager] [Kevin] Keegan [outburst on live TV in 1996] so it can sometimes make a manager nervous, but Mancini looks quite calm."
During his first season in charge of City, Mancini was rightly accused of playing with a defence-first approach which left them open to ridicule when results didn’t go their way.
However armed with a squad of world beaters this season, Mancini has let his side run free to devastating effect; and even as they have come under pressure it is refreshing to see City maintaining their attacking formation at least.
In the drab 0-0 draw with Arsenal last season Mancini deployed Nigel de Jong, Yaya Toure, James Milner and Gareth Barry in midfield – not exactly the most progressive line up for a team then occupying second place in the league.
Fast forward to the recent crucial encounter between the two teams and Mancini opted for a much more attacking line up, with Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri forming an attractive looking front three, with Milner and Yaya Toure getting forward from midfield.
While all three of the attacking players selected weren’t at the club for the Arsenal game last season it is clear to see that there has been a marked change in mentality, and Mancini deserves credit for adapting his style and sticking to it, even in a must-win game.
While he is the envy of most managers thanks to the backing he receives from City’s wealthy owners, Mancini is perhaps more accountable for the players he signs than any of his peers.
Of his summer signings there have been few complaints; even Balotelli, who has been a constant pain is still held in high regard by the club’s fans, Gael Clichy and Nasri have grown in to their roles at the club, while January signing David Pizarro has been solid when called upon.
Stefan Savic has been his one error in judgement, but if the names he has mentioned that he may make a move for over the summer such as Luka Modric, Edinson Cavani and Gonzalo Higuain then he is going after the right sort of targets.
City of course have the problem of clearing out some of the unwanted players on big wages, which has resulted in loan deals to rivals so Mancini must be careful not to spend too big this summer, but during the January window he demonstrated that he could be prudent and avoid splashing the cash.
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