The Blog

City in Danger of Being a Soft Touch

Manchester City's decision to replace Roberto Mancini with Manuel Pellegrini this summer was greeted with widespread relief by players and supporters alike.

Manchester City's decision to replace Roberto Mancini with Manuel Pellegrini this summer was greeted with widespread relief by players and supporters alike.

The combative Italian had, it was argued, injected a poisonous atmosphere into the club with his abrasive management style and propensity for singling out individuals in public. Indeed, it was reported that Mancini's fate was sealed when he publicly rebuked goalkeeper Joe Hart after City's 3-2 defeat against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu last September.

Hart, of course, is persona non grata at the Etihad Stadium after gifting Fernando Torres and Chelsea a last-minute winner at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Mancini could be forgiven a wry smile as Pellegrini ponders whether to retain faith in the 26-year-old or swoop for £15m-rated Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic in January.

Unfortunately for Pellegrini, he has more to deal with than a goalkeeper going through an elongated bad patch.

Three away defeats in four Premier League games spells trouble. Whilst Pellegrini seethed at Jose Mourinho's typically extrovert celebration in the aftermath of Torres' winner, he will be more furious at the growing evidence that his side have a soft underbelly.

Whilst Torres was excellent on Sunday, the way he breezed past Gael Clichy - no slouch himself - set alarm bells ringing. Javi Garcia still looks all at sea in his second season in the Premier League, while Fernandinho is yet to take a game by the scruff of the neck since his summer arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk. Where is Gareth Barry when you need him?

Quite simply, for every coruscating attacking display - such as the 4-1 evisceration of Manchester United, or the 3-1 drubbing of West Ham United which was as stylish as it was comprehensive - comes a wasteful performance on the road.

Take the 3-2 defeat at Aston Villa, sealed by Andreas Weimann's late winner after another galloping misjudgment from Hart. Captain Vincent Kompany spluttered his disbelief that City had lost the game, just as he did after newly-promoted Cardiff City pinched victory by the same scoreline in the second game of the season. Yet lose they did. End of story.

Mancini's overt aggression certainly created tension at the club, but you could be sure that he would have conducted a thorough inquest after defeat at the hands of Malky Mackay's men. How did Frazier Campbell find the space to attack two corners unchallenged? Why was the match not put to bed by half-time?

Instead, a nonplussed Pellegrini and Kompany tried to sweep the result under the carpet. Such is the new style at City: the former Malaga coach would rather refine minor tactical details on the training ground than conduct an investigation in public.

The City players clearly prefer Pellegrini's more phlegmatic approach: he is placid and conciliatory where Mancini was dictatorial and confrontational.

Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that his attacking players have embraced his attacking philosophy. Sergio Aguero has been in scintillating form with ten goals in his first eleven games, as has Samir Nasri - another player lambasted by Mancini.

But as Manchester United have ostensibly lost their fear factor with the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, the opposition believe that there is a game-changing mistake lurking within City's ranks.

There is a growing perception that in attempting to purge the unhealthy atmosphere within the club fostered by Mancini, City have allowed standards to slip in their pursuit of harmony and togetherness.

It certainly looks impressive when Aguero and summer signing Alvaro Negredo bully defences and link up with David Silva and Jesus Navas. It does not look so clever when Everton's Romelu Lukaku saunters past Joleon Lescott, as he did in City's recent 3-1 triumph at the Etihad.

Title-winning teams are bullies, crushing the opposition and refusing to give them a glimmer of hope. Away from home, City shower their hosts with gifts and then roll out the hard-luck story. Nothing changes; nothing is resolved.

This needs to change. Pellegrini must drop Hart and give Costel Pantilimon a chance. He must show that he is not an idealist who lets points and titles slip by. His players are more free to express themselves but are still accountable for their mistakes.

It is still early days for the experienced Chilean, but he must stamp his authority on his new side before he is cast as a procrastinator. Hart will return stronger, but his inconsistency epitomises City's own frailty.

Starting with tomorrow's potentially tricky Capital One Cup tie at Newcastle United, City must be ruthless rather than generous. They can sizzle going forward whilst yielding nothing at the back.

After changing so much over the summer to try and expunge his heavy-handed approach, the last thing the club need is fans covertly yearning for the days of Roberto Mancini.

But if they continue to fritter away points with mistakes of their own creation, it might happen sooner than you would think.