Early Doors

Mancini’s mea culpa could be costly

Early Doors

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Back in August, when Manchester City easily outclassed Liverpool 3-0 at Eastlands, the Reds were a club falling into disrepair.

Roy Hodgson had to contend with Javier Mascherano's apparent refusal to play before kick-off, which preceded a limp defeat in which Gareth Barry - for so long a Liverpool target - scored the opener.

Fast forward seven months and these clubs, in the words of erstwhile hoodie-sporting boy band Blazin' Squad, have flip reversed it.

Nothing could go right for City last night as they were comfortably outplayed at Anfield every bit as much as Liverpool were in that reverse fixture.

While big-money striker Edin Dzeko continues to lumber around stadiums up and down the country in search of his first Premier League goal, City were left to look on enviously as Liverpool's own expensive January recruits Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll - who scored his first two goals for his new club - did the business.

The result leaves City in fourth place, just three points in front of Tottenham, who have a game in hand.

To make matters much worse, it looks as though they will be without Carlos Tevez for Saturday's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United after their captain and best player pulled up with a hamstring injury.

With that derby clash at Wembley in mind, City boss Roberto Mancini elected to rest his main playmaker, David Silva, and his chief midfield enforcer, Nigel de Jong. Shorn of much of their spark and steel, City were well beaten.

A clearly dispirited Mancini held his hands up after the match, claiming responsibility for the result.

He said in his post-match interview: "Probably we didn't play in the first 20 minutes when Liverpool played very well. But I think tonight I made a mistake, I did something wrong.

"I think the players could do better but I made a mistake. I want to apologise to the fans."

When pressed to point out exactly where his fault lay, he would only reply: "It is for me to know, it's not important."

Mancini was adamant that his team selection was not influenced by City's first FA Cup semi-final for 30 years coming up just five days after this match, but it is hard to see what else could have been the reason.

Both Silva and De Jong have been integral parts of City's first team all season. The Spaniard has only missed three Premier League games all season before last night, De Jong five, with injury or suspension accounting for most if not all of those absences.

Were City still in Europe, as Saturday's opponents United are this evening, then a spot of squad rotation would certainly have been necessary. However, after Saturday City have just three matches in the following 21 days, against Blackburn, West Ham and Everton.

Even if it was little more than an effort to deflect criticism away from his players, Mancini deserves admiration for being big enough to shoulder the blame for a damaging result. However, if City fail to finish fourth for the second year in a row, then his honesty is not likely to save him. If anything, it might even accelerate his departure.

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Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson couldn't resist a little dig at opposite number Carlo Ancelotti ahead of Chelsea's visit to Old Trafford this evening.

As he shared a press conference with defender Rio Ferdinand, who hilariously made reference to the "stay on your feet" craze currently sweeping Twitter (as spearheaded by Rio and the Jerry Seinfeld to his Larry David, Robbie Savage), Fergie criticised Chelsea over their obsession with winning the Champions League.

"It seems to be an obsession for them to win a European Cup, that is certainly why they signed Fernando Torres - there is no question about that in my mind," the Scot said.

"To have an obsession to win a European Cup is stretching yourself a wee bit."

Of course, it's not like Fergie would let such an obsession cloud his judgement by, say, fielding a clearly unfit Wayne Rooney against Bayern Munich last season, thereby scuppering the finest form of his star player's career and kicking off a poor patch that lasted nigh on a year, is it?

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I admit it doesn't feel great to be leaving Barnet so soon, but I'm not a multi-millionaire manager and somebody in my family has to pay the bills and put petrol in the tank. When you've been out of work for eight months, and within three weeks of getting back on the payroll you get a massive financial offer, anyone who claims they would turn it down is a liar." - Martin 'Mad Dog' Allen is defiant about his decision to take the Notts County job just three games after taking charge of Barnet.

FOREIGN VIEW: "I was angry with myself after losing possession. I made a comment to myself - it was not directed at the referee or his assistant. I ask for forgiveness from everyone. I left the pitch without making a scene. I was looking at the officials as they were in front of me, and I did not have a gripe with him. It was not the best time to be getting a red card, as I was returning from a suspension." - Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts to being suspended for three matches for swearing at a linesman in the game where he returned from a two-match ban.

COMING UP: After being made to wait a full three weeks between legs in the previous round, tonight's Champions League quarter-final second legs kick-off just six days after the first ones. Follow live coverage of Manchester United v Chelsea (1-0) and Shakhtar Donetsk v Barcelona (1-5) from 19:45, plus there is a full programme in the Championship and matches in League One, League Two and the SPL.

Armchair Pundit Alex Chick will be looking ahead to tonight's clash at Old Trafford, while you'll be given the chance to ask Everton manager David Moyes a question.

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