Manchester City are afforded a rare opportunity to step back from the tumult of the Premier League this weekend and after the Jeremy Kyle-like attention that dogged last week’s meeting with Chelsea, the breathing space will certainly be welcome. Although beating the league leaders on their own turf provides one of those occasions when the games cannot come quickly enough.
City’s FA Cup elimination is to thank for this free couple of days, likely the only chance Roberto Mancini has had to stop and consider his new surroundings since arriving in Manchester in December. It has been a steep learning curve for the Italian – not just getting used to English football, but also acclimatising to life at a side below the stature of Inter Milan. City may be a Champions League chasing outfit but that does not compare with the Neazzurri’s place as the dominant team in Italy, a position they held for much of Mancio’s time there.
Even before the Calciopoli scandal that ripped the heart out of Italian football, Inter were one of the peninsula’s superpowers. Following Juventus’ demotion for their role in the match-fixing racket and punishment to a number of other teams, including Inter’s eternal rivals AC Milan Inter’s status as Italy’s foremost club was confirmed and for the last two of Mancini’s four years at the San Siro, they were practically unchallenged domestically. That may have allowed Inter to canter to consecutive Serie A victories under the former Sampdoria player, but at the same time it left Mancini with a few holes in his notebook of knowledge.
Mancini proved at Inter he could win titles, but that is not yet City’s aim. For them, reaching the Champions League is the season’s ultimate goal, not because of a lack of ambition at the club but rather an acknowledgement they are not ready to scale the heights Inter reached. Much in the same way lower-ranked teams cower when City’s cousins Manchester United approach, the mid-level teams in Italy often reacted the same way to Mancini’s Inter. The boys in black and blue were able to dominate the opposition and steamroll them into submission but City cannot yet do that. Leading a team only amongst the fourth-best in their league is a new experience for Mancio and he has to adapt to it.
City cannot yet control every game as Inter did but need to stamp their authority on games with struggling, mid-ranked teams, starting with Sunderland. Next week’s trip to the Stadium of Light will be vastly far removed from the Blues’ last outing at Stamford Bridge and the same approach will not cut the mustard against Steve Bruce’s side. The victory over Chelsea was borne out of an intriguing tactical battle rarely seen in England, which Mancini got the better of, some strong individual performances and a little luck – particularly from Petr Cech’s injury and John Obi Mikel’s inexplicable header that led to Carlos Tevez’s equalising goal.
For much of the first half at the Bridge, City were content to let Chelsea take the initiative, a mindset that will not suffice against Sunderland when the onus will be on the visitors to show they belong in fourth place. There is plenty of time between now and kick-off against the North East side to formulate a plan but the kind of stilted, timid and apprehensive football that has reared its ugly head too often will not do. Sunderland are struggling and three points is there for the taking. Mancini has over a week to decide how to get them, and in truth coming away from Sunderland with anything but a maximum haul will be a missed opportunity.
The difference between Italian football and English football is as great as the difference between leading Inter Milan and Manchester City, and Mancini still needs to grow accustomed to both new experiences in his life, but for certain, the ideas Mancio used to win titles in his home nation cannot be replicated at Eastlands. City’s differing standing in the league and the players at his disposal mean Mancini will have to find a new way of leading the team to glory that is uniquely City’s. The lull provided by a barren few days, after the commotion of the trip to Chelsea and the subsequent England international, could be a pivotal time in the Citizens’ development, and provide the launching pad for future success.
Watch all Man City matches live on your computer – click here