Leci: Citizens Arrest

ESPN Star Sports presenter Andrew Leci examines Manchester City's sub-par start to the new Barclays Premier League season.

Andrew Leci

By Andrew Leci

Cast your minds back to Monday the 20th of December 2010.

Everton played for the last half hour at the then ‘City of Manchester Stadium', with 10 men, after Victor Anichebe received a second yellow card and got an early taste of the plumbing at Eastlands.

Despite the numerical inferiority, the Toffees stuck around for the win, and Manchester City's hopes of going top of the Barclays Premier League table on the day, were dashed.

I request the recollection because it was the last time Manchester City lost at home in the league. Since then, only Fulham, Sunderland and Arsenal have emerged with as much as a point, while every other side has come off second best.

It's a quite remarkable home record of 29 wins and 3 draws from 32 matches played, and it formed the bedrock of their title-winning season.

One of those 29 came, famously, on the last day of last BPL campaign, amid scenes of the highest imaginable drama and tension. Manchester City eventually beat QPR with two goals coming in stoppage time at the end of the game.

As fans at the Etihad Stadium were preparing for a mass cry-in - an understandable response at the realisation that their beloved club had blown a golden opportunity of securing their first league title in 44 years - Edin Dzeko popped up with the equaliser, and Sergio Aguero sealed the deal with a goal that elicited the paroxysms of joy normally associated with the end of a global conflict.

The euphoria among City fans was understandable, and palpable, especially after being put through the emotional wringer. One would think that it would have created a momentum at the club that would be a mere formality to carry into the new season.

Clearly this has not been the case, and City's defeat on Tuesday night in the Capital One Cup, is one in a series of sub-par performances from a profoundly expensive squad of players.

The fact that the reverse came at The Etihad Stadium (a veritable ‘fortress' - see above) creates further cause for concern.

Did Mancini shuffle his pack and rest key players? Perhaps, and yes; but City's 11 still saw starts for the likes of Tevez, Balotelli, Kolarov, Milner and Barry, and every single pre-match hand-shaker was a full blooded international.

Having spent plenty of money, Manchester City had achieved what they had set out to do last season, and established themselves as the team to beat in this one. They'd reached the pinnacle, and the exuberance and feel-good factor of their triumph in May should have been enough to propel them into a swashbuckling start to the new campaign.

Unfortunately, it appears as though someone has forgotten to inform the players, and possibly even the manager.

So far this campaign, Manchester City have looked far from their imperious best. We saw them dispatch teams last season, with an almost disdainful arrogance - built up over the months by a level of success, and a proven ability to up their game and take control of matches, seemingly at will.

Something of the swagger has gone, and the defensive solidity that characterised last season looks to have turned into something more gelatinous. Manchester City conceded a total of 29 goals in the league last season, and after 5 games this campaign, their fortifications have already been breached 7 times.

If we extrapolate, it means that Joe Hart could be faced with the prospect of picking the ball out of his own net in excess of 50 times before May 2013. I would venture to suggest that this may not be part of a title-winning formula.

In addition to sub-standard performances on the field, there are one or two ructions off it. Roberto Mancini looked particularly fractious on Tuesday evening, and short-tempered even in his response to Joe Hart's criticism of the team after the UCL defeat at Real Madrid.

Keeping a star-studded squad of players happy has, and was always going to be one of Mancini's greatest challenges, but we have mostly applied this to the concept of playing time and making sure that everyone was sufficiently satisfied with their lot. He may have other concerns going forward, and it seems as though his managerial prowess (and all facets thereof) is going to be tested to its limit.

These are early days, and only a tabloid newspaper would talk about a looming crisis at the club.

But, other teams in the BPL are seeing signs of vulnerability and dissonance at Eastlands, and that can only encourage them as the season progresses. Everyone at Manchester City will know that they have to front up, sooner rather than later, before a slow start to a campaign becomes something slightly more worrying.



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