Early season questions but expect the right answers

Laurence Griffiths - Getty Images

Roberto Mancini must have hoped to be able to bask in the glory of Premier League success a little longer than he has.

The memories of lifting the Premier League trophy that on that crazy, sunny day will still be fresh in the Italian's memory but the shine is certainly beginning to wear off after a start to the season in which his side has failed to win in four games (including two cup defeats) and is generating an increasing number of questions being asked of him.

As I regularly espoused heading into the season, whilst success invariably breeds success, one of its trappings is that it breeds expectation; heightened demands are made and very little leeway is afforded.

Eight games in to the season (including League, Cup and Community Shield) and there is a clear sense that City are not clicking. There are many theories being suggested but the fluidity of play, incisive attacking and authoritative defending have been seen only fleetingly so far.

Another thing that was touched on was that (admittedly like many other sides) City had players returning at different times for pre-season and in different states of fitness and fatigue following summer exertions. Allied to this was that the majority of summer signings were made as the clock ticked down on the transfer window (for once Mancini has a very valid argument with regards transfer policy) meant that there was a very real possibility that August and September were likely to be a de facto extended pre-season. And so it has proven.

What is of concern however is that the expectation was that tangible signs of progress would have been witnessed by now. The incisiveness in attack has stuttered at time and the midfield has (Yaya Toure aside) not been its dominant and assertive presence with David Silva off the pace and Samir Nasri (an early bright spot) injured. Of key concern though is the defence: sixteen goals conceded in all competitions at an average of two per game with no clean sheets. City are certainly not allowing high shot numbers (their total placing them in the middle of the pack rather than the high end) but their shot save % is low, but with Joe Hart being one of the standout performances it suggests that the chances being conceded are of a higher quality. Equally, City are not helping their own causes given the number of errors leading to scoring chances; the impenetrable Kompany-Lescott axis looks off balance and lacking composure and the ability to hold onto leads - the very cornerstone of their success over the past two seasons - has escaped them.

The adoption (or intention) of the 3-5-2 has also drawn much debate, with its use being cited as a factor in the sides not playing with the fluidity we have become accustomed to over the past 12-18 months, yet is this a red herring? Formations in the modern game are so fluid and interchangeable that the old conventions of 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 are no longer applicable. Can anyone truly say how City line up? At best, a very loose 4-3-3 that morphs into a 4-5-1 or even a 4-4-2 depending on the situation. Given the licence the full backs under Mancini have, even if two central defenders are deployed then the defensive midfielder (or one of them) often drops as the auxillary defender anyway.

The Villa defeat this week, in many ways, can be viewed as insignificant: after all, the route into Europe doesn't carry the attraction it once offered but a trophy is a trophy and despite not many of the first choice starters (another outmoded concept surely?) not playing a convincing win (and clean sheet to boot) would have provided a much needed shot in the arm. In addition, the likes of Denis Suarez, Abdul Razak, Karim Rekik and John Guidetti (the later pair currently injured) find an important route blocking their progress.

Yet while question are deservedly being raised, given we are not yet through the month September this is no time for any great inquest or introspection; the season has barely begun after all. Players and management alike will be aware of the need to improve though but enough credit has been built up to expect the reaction to be favourable.

If anything, we may look back on this early period of the 2012/13 season as precisely what was needed to the focus the side on replicating the achievements of the previous campaign.

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