Manchester City will start the defence of their English Premier League crown at West Ham.
As Manchester City faced defeat following a home loss to Ajax last month Roberto Mancini was bemoaning his team’s lack of defensive concentration.
Then on Tuesday night, with his team’s fate as the bottom placed team in their Champions League group sealed, the Italian manager found himself acknowledging the “big problem” they have scoring goals.
Broad strokes from Mancini and indeed there hasn’t been many aspects to City’s play in the Champions League this season for him to be content with.
A common theme from the English media is to lament City’s bad fortune in drawing such difficult groups because of their low seeding by UEFA.
Yet, after two seasons of ineffectiveness against teams ranging from the mid to top tier of Champions League football, it would appear the Citizens are more or less in their place.
The real problem for City goes back to their greatest achievement under Mancini.
The Italian’s goal after securing City’s first Champions League qualification two seasons ago was to find success on the domestic front. Last season with that gripping piece of sporting drama that was Sergio Aguero’s injury time goal he achieved that.
So City’s team is one built with the Premier League in mind and this is where the transition into the Champions League has had problems.
Just as it happened to Italian football earlier in the millennium, after a period of continental dominance, the Premier League’s cycle has passed its apex. In fact it do so a couple of seasons ago.
City put together a team capable of consistently strong-arming most teams in England, but that’s no longer enough to guarantee at least some success in Europe.
The answer isn’t to go out and splurge vast amounts of money, but to accept the margins for error are much smaller in a six game group stage and adjust accordingly. Often only one or two different players or factors can bring a team forward in their development.
Which brings us to the issue of Mancini’s future.
To paraphrase another Italian tactician, managers can’t make a team better than their potential, but they can make them worse.
As the Manchester derby looms this weekend – a game that last season provided one of the highs of the 48-year-olds time at Eastlands – this is where the question on Mancini lies.
With it appearing increasingly likely the two most successful coaches of this current generation – Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho – will be on the look out for new clubs in the coming European Summer, Mancini may well not get another chance at City. It would hardly be unfair.
With a European record in which his teams have lost a higher percentage of matches, scored fewer goals per game and conceded more often than those of Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola, Mancini can’t yet claim to be amongst European football’s coaching elite.
How much longer will City’s owner Sheikh Mansour be willing to trust such an expensive squad to someone outside of this esteemed group of tacticians?