After their 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sunderland on Boxing Day, some people were left questioning Manchester City's title credentials - myself included. With their local rivals, Manchester United, having now stretched their lead at the top of the Premier League table to seven points, it remains to be seen whether Roberto Mancini's side can repeat their exploits of last season in overturning a considerable points deficit to be crowned champions.
Although City followed up that defeat at the Stadium of Light with back-to-back victories over Norwich and Stoke respectively, doubts remain as to whether Mancini's side can regain the Premier League title. So, where lies the problem at the Etihad Stadium?
Absence of a valid 'plan B' seems to be the biggest issue. When in full flow, Manchester City play an attacking brand of football which is a pleasure to watch - as evidenced during their win over Newcastle United on December 15. With Samir Nasri and David Silva pulling the strings and playing in tandem, there are very few teams in the world who can stop them. But problems occur when City face opponents who sit deep.
Last season, whenever faced with such a situation, Mancini’s response was to put Yaya Toure in a more advanced role and throwing caution to the wind by bringing on as many strikers as possible. With Edin Dzeko emerging as City's new 'super-sub', there is always the chance of a goal with the amount of attacking talent at Mancini's disposal.
Another problem Mancini seems to be facing is the lack of genuine wingers in his squad. If the opposition remain resolute when defending the width of the penalty box, Manchester City struggle as the majority of their play goes through the central positions. They lack a genuine out-and-out winger who is willing to run at the full-backs and send in crosses which will unnerve the opposition defences.
James Milner is not as effective as he was during his Aston Villa days and Scott Sinclair is really not someone on whom a side challenging for the title can rely on. Playing Argentine forward Carlos Tevez in one of the wide positions, as has been a regular occurrence this season, is nothing more than a stop-gap and is not an answer to the Blues' long-term problems.
If Manchester City had someone of the ilk of Manchester United's Antonio Valencia, this would not only provide Mancini's men with an alternative option, but it would give them with a genuine threat going forward, with Valencia's pace and power likely to cause even the most resolute of defences problems.
City's recruitment has also come under question in recent times. Although the Italian tactician has strengthened in the most recent transfer windows, Mancini has failed to bring in world-class players that are capable of improving the starting XI. Although squad players like Scott Sinclair and Javi Martinez have signed on at the Etihad Stadium, the 48-year-old boss missed out on his main transfer target from the summer - Robin Van Persie.
Ultimately, I don't think City have improved on last season's title-winning squad, and because of that, I have my doubts as to whether they can build on that success this season. Can they really win the league when the only players they have signed are Garcia, Sinclair, Richard Wright and Jack Rodwell? The lack of genuine quality is staggering.
With the January transfer window now open, Mancini and City have the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs of the last transfer window with the addition of one or two players in key areas. All is not lost and as we saw last season, a seven point lead is not insurmountable. A couple of top quality reinforcements could spark a turnaround in fortunes for Manchester City as they seek to emulate the success of last season.
Get it right this January, and we could well see the league title returning to the blue half of Manchester come May. Get it wrong, and the title is United's to lose.
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