The Southampton match had every aspect of a trap. First and foremost, you know as well as I the Saints had this game circled on their calendar: at home, against the defending champs and playing like demons for their new manager, playing well and we've got guys coming back from international matches and we've got guys hurt and we've got everyone and their mother associated with Manchester City saying we absolutely, positively have to win every game from here on out or the title race is over. One is tempted to suggest that the luckiest team on the face of the earth a.k.a Man United, lucked out again with an extra day of rest--one we could have desperately used--but that would be engaging in the kind of excuses that we have come to abhor. So, we lost to Southampton and believe it or not, amongst the myriad of issues to be worried about, that falls way down the list. I've got a few other concerns. To wit:
Part the First: Can Gareth Barry Play? That's a fair question. I'm having the devil's own time figuring out what Barry adds to the team. He's not fast, he's inconsistent, he's not especially strong in the air, he's not passing the ball well at all and he can't cover on a consistent basis. It's more than just the gaffe, though that was bad. It's also the first Southampton goal which came directly after a Barry giveaway. I remember well when Gareth Barry, who looks for all the world like the prototype of the English footballer, played what I thought was the worst game I've ever seen a Citizen play. On a night when YaYa was clearly gassed, on a night when we desperately needed a win, Barry offered up a stinker. Milner--who again played well today and should have been in the starting lineup somewhere--spent some time in Mancini's doghouse this season. Now that James is clearly out, it's time to put Gareth in until such time he can prove his worth.
Part the Second: Can Samir Nasri play? I sometimes disagree with the always entertaining Mack71 but, damn, I wish I thought of this:
Watching Nasri, I could not help remembering my 3 years old daughter who loves to run in circles and make every one laugh. Only this time, I was just crying.
Well played. Yes, I wrote Milner should have started. What I should have added was "in place of Nasri." I'm not surprised that Milner for now is playing better than Nasri. I am very surprised that Nasri is adding virtually nothing of value to the team. To what degree Nasri's problems are systemic is open to debate but it's clear to anyone with eyes that Nasri looks and plays like a lost child. I wrote last week that after Balotelli's exit, Nasri's time at the Etihad might be coming to an end soon. Barring a complete turnaround, that time might very will be this summer.
Part the Third: About that Back Line? Kompany and Nastasic are so clearly better than anyone else we can put back there that the difference is disorienting. Joleon Lescott was the starter on a championship team last season but he looks a shell of his former self. If I ever see Javi Garcia starting as a CB again, it'll be too soon. And while I've always admired Glichy's hustle, I've never seen him get beat so often in one game. More alarming than the performance of the back line to me is, again, the gap between our first-teamers and our second string. Notwithstanding the gaffes of Hart and Barry today, our back line was a sieve. I wish Kompany and Nastasic a long and healthy run for the rest of the season because short of that, our defense--so often the backbone of the squad--is in real trouble.
Part the Fourth: Is Mancini the Problem? Immediately after the match, the always charming Eric Wynalda (sarcasm alert!) stated that the team "give up on the manager" and that it was time for City to look for someone else. "They gave up on him," Wynalda said. "You could see it." Warren Barton concurred.
Bollocks, sirs. Bollocks.
While he has made some errors (the omission of Milner from the starting lineup today was a howler) I have never thought that Mancini has ever lost the team. Post-match, he shared his thoughts here, and I can't help but remain very impressed with him. He hit exactly the right points at a time when he probably felt like setting the bus on fire. What was intriguing about his comments was that he felt like the Citizens were playing "3 against 11" and it doesn't take much to guess which three players actually showed up to play against the Saints--Zabaleta, Silva and probably Aguero (Dzeko, in spite of the goal, was a step slow in all other aspects of the game). I didn't see any players arguing with the manager during or after the game; after the final whistle, the players couldn't have been more classy, shaking hands with an opposition that was just flat out better. I saw signs of a healthy attitude--as healthy as one can have after a game like that--and I can see the Citizens coming back extremely strong next week. I don't doubt this at all.
So Wynalda and Barton are just flat out wrong about City's attitude, about the team quitting on the manager (I don't doubt Eric has experience in this area) and about the team getting on the phone talking to who knows what. But it's worthwhile to ask what Mancini has to do to keep his job after this season. Which brings us to...
Part the Fifth: Poll! You know what to do. Now, if you'll excuse me, an ocean of alcohol is calling.