Roberto Mancini’s approach to the big games is holding Manchester City back

This season’s Premier League is the tightest and most open it has ever been. The entire bottom half of the table are in a relegation dogfight, the European places are going to go down to the wire, and the title race has got plenty of twists and turns left it in yet.

The way the season has panned out has meant there are gaps in the table where there usually wouldn’t be. Chelsea have been far from their efficient best, Manchester United have flattered to deceive, while Arsenal continue to shoot themselves in foot. Factor in Tottenham’s inconsistency and you’ll see a very flawed top five. The other member of this group that have created something of a gap from the rest of the league is Manchester City, a team who have had the chance to capitalise on all of this to not only secure Champions League qualification, but perhaps even challenge for the title.

Their bid to be in next season’s Champions League is on track, although it will be a close call with Spurs breathing down their neck. However, their fans will be forgiven for thinking that this season has been an excellent chance to really push their way into a title race. With no stand-out contenders, City could, and probably should still be in with a decent shout at Premier League glory.

However, yesterday’s game at Stamford Bridge was all the evidence needed to show just why they are not nipping at their arch-rivals United’s heels. Once again Roberto Mancini adopted a conservative approach, as has been the norm against top opposition. They went to Spurs and tried to shut up shop from minute one on the opening day of season – coming away with a very fortuitous goalless draw. They did a similar job on Arsenal at the Emirates, with their goal living an equally charmed life there too, although couldn’t repeat the trick at Stamford Bridge yesterday.

Indeed their only away goal against any of the other top five was at Old Trafford, where they were eventually beaten 2-1. The game against United was a perfect example of how Mancini’s approach to these games seems to be holding his team back. They were content at 0-0, but had to chase the game when they lost the first goal, which they did incredibly well . The late sucker-punch of Wayne Rooney’s spectacular overhead kick was harsh overall, but the game itself should’ve showed Mancini that his side can match anyone in the division. However, the Italian is more scared of his quality opposition than he is of expressing his own side’s clear attacking quality.

In City’s seven Premier League games against the other teams in the top five this season, they have gained five points, scoring just two goals. A game against someone you are directly challenging with is referred to as a six-pointer, but Mancini simply hasn’t been brave enough to approach these matches head-on. If he had, City could well be still in with a shout for the title.

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