Club Focus – Manchester City – Winter of discontent on the horizon for Hughes

Mark Hughes will again be ruing his side’s inability to hold onto a lead after a seventh consecutive draw that means Manchester City have not won in the Premier League since September.

The Hull penalty converted by Jimmy Bullard may have been harshly awarded against Kolo Toure, but the fact remains that Hughes’ team failed to put away a side who the other Champions League hopefuls will expect to beat comfortably. And it could have been worse, as Joleon Lescott cleared a Richard Garcia effort off the line to preserve City’s lead prior to Bullard’s penalty. There are more positives to take from this game, however, than from the previous results that the City of Manchester side have earned.

Robinho returned to the side and looked dangerous, but an understanding with Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez is still some way off – however, whether the Brazilian remains in the North West after January remains to be seen. City’s defence, under much criticism lately, performed much closer to their potential on Saturday but understanding throughout the team is still missing, according to Hughes. The Welshman told the BBC: “We’re trying to get something started here but at times we look exactly what we are, a side that has been thrown together very quickly. That means we’ll have bad days among the good ones.”

Hughes cannot afford more bad days than good for much longer, however. The News of the World reported on Sunday that Guus Hiddink, Jose Mourinho and Roberto Mancini were all in the frame to replace the former Manchester United striker. The rumour came after City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak was present for the draw with Hull and with Mancini out of work, Hiddink’s position as Russia boss uncertain after their failure to make the World Cup and Mourinho thought to be desirous of a return to England, they would likely be the leading candidates to step in should Hughes be given his marching orders.

Wednesday’s League Cup tie with Arsenal could be the tonic City need as they host Arsenal’s youngsters in a quarter-final fixture. Hughes has so far fielded strong sides in the tournament, and a victory over The Gunners could be the boost City’s form needs. On the other hand, defeat against Arsene Wenger’s collection of talented but inexperienced lot could be a blow of immeasurable proportions. Aiming for the Champions League this season, City are off the pace but a trophy victory and a place in the Europa League could keep Hughes in the job.

As the January transfer window looms, City are again being linked with big name players from England and abroad. Liverpool’s Fernando Torres is one of the more unlikely names touted to join the City revolution, but The Blues’ hopes of adding a marquee name to their ranks by a report from ESPN that cast doubt on the credibility of what City are hoping to achieve. The story quoted an unnamed source as saying: “Players at the highest possible level don’t necessary want to go there despite the offer of such big wages, because they are not serious…yet.” If word of the doubts held by the game’s top names spreads, City’s owners may show how serious they are by wielding the axe on Hughes and appointing a manager the stature of Hiddink, Mancini or Mourinho.

City were revealed as the highest payers of agents on Monday, as the club announced they paid representatives almost £13m during 2009. After a £173m spending spree, City were ahead of Chelsea in the highest-payers list, with the London side spending £9.6m this year. City’s chief financial officer, Graham Wallace, told mcfc.co.uk: “The total amount falls well within our annual budget and operating plan as approved by our board.”

Money may not be spent only on agents according to The News of the World. The red-top suggested on Sunday that Belgian club Royal Excelsior Mouscron, who are facing massive financial troubles, could be saved by The Citizens. Mouscron would then act as City’s European feeder team, giving The Blues first option on any promising young players, including midfielder Maxime Lestienne, who at 17 has already had a trial with Everton this year. A deadline of December 4th has been set by the Belgian FA for Mouscron to show they are financially stable, so City will have to act fast if their interest is legitimate. £3m will be enough to save Mouscron, a drop in the vast ocean of City’s finances.

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