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Manchester City No Longer Boast the Etihad Fortress of the Mancini Era

11/02/2015 17:18 GMT | Updated 13/04/2015 10:59 BST

Roberto Mancini helped build the Etihad Stadium as a fortress during his three and a half years in charge at Manchester City. A model of consistency at home, Mancini's City grew into one of football's true superpowers on the foundations of their superiority at Eastlands. Now, with the shadow of Mancini long gone, the cracks are beginning to widen and pose a genuine threat to City's bid for a third Premier League title.

It began in August, when Mame Biram Diouf streaked clear of Vincent Kompany and slid the ball under Joe Hart to give Stoke City a shock 1-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium. After losing every single previous match at the stadium, it was an epic shock for the Potters and their boss, former City manager Mark Hughes.

Then, they failed to defeat Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in a top-of-the-table clash, rescuing a point only after Frank Lampard emerged from the substitute bench to haunt his former side. But the stagnancy continued. They only managed a 1-1 draw when they played host to Roma and then came arguably the shock of the season; their 2-0 Capital One Cup loss to Newcastle United.

It was a performance of alarming inadequacy. Accustomed to watching their side roll over teams at home week after week, the City fans were again left in shock after a spirited Newcastle performance sent Pellegrini's men crashing out of the cup at only the second time of asking. There were no excuses for a crestfallen City. They had fielded a strong team including Yaya Toure, David Silva, Stefan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko, but failed to impeach a Magpies outfit who, at that time, were spiralling out of control under Alan Pardew.

Exactly a week later, City hosted CSKA Moscow in a must-win game in the Champions League. Those who were expecting a scintillating exercise in redemption were to be left disillusioned with the men in blue as Seydou Doumbia's double-strike gave CSKA all three points and left City in a deepening crisis. A Sergio Aguero masterclass teased the collective Etihad faithful into thinking the days of dominance were returning, but such a mood was dampened once more when Burnley came to town.

Sean Dyche's men travelled to the Etihad knowing that escaping with a single point would have constituted a monumental achievement, regardless of City's waning powers in their own back garden. Indeed, after David Silva and Fernandinho vaulted City into a 2-0 lead after 33 minutes, the Clarets would have been lauded for keeping it at that scoreline. They had something else in mind.

Prompting a tumultuous atmosphere inside the Etihad, George Boyd and Ashley Barnes pulled Burnley back to claim a glorious point for the newly-promoted side and leave Pellegrini with his arms folded, shaking his head in disbelief. After that Christmas calamity, City rode their luck at home once again on New Years Day when they squandered another two-goal advantage to Sunderland, only for Lampard to scrape the victory with a penalty.

The real source of concern for Pellegrini and City is that they have not improved as the season has progressed. After requiring a brace from James Milner to overcome League One's Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 in the FA Cup, their next home game ended in despair. Outclassed and outplayed by a ruthless Arsenal, City crumbled and looked utterly bereft of a response.

Since the low-water mark of the Arsenal defeat, City have failed to win their two subsequent home games. Hitting a nadir with the 0-2 loss at the hands of Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, City escaped further humiliation at home to Hull City only after a 92nd-minute James Milner free-kick. City's withering performances at home have reached proportions of genuine distress for the champions. They are seven points adrift of Chelsea at the league's summit and should they fail to retain the title, it will be their impotency at the Etihad Stadium that has hindered their surge the most.

Last year under Pellegrini, City were untouchable at home, winning 17 of 18 league games, losing just once and scoring a sensational 63 goals. However, the intensifying disquiet inside the Etihad citadel this season only reflects how the players have failed to kick on from the ecstasy of last year. Out of both cups and surviving the Champions League group stage by the skin of their teeth, City's season looks to be heading for abject failure unless they re-establish their unstoppable brilliance at home.

It is worth remembering that Manchester United's abysmal home form under David Moyes was a key factor in the sacking of the Scotsman. Should City choose to part company with their Chilean coach in the summer, the uninspiring displays on their home patch will be underlined as a pivotal aspect of his downfall.

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