“We deserve to achieve this,” said Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini on Sunday, concerning his side ending in the top four this season.
“We have been at the top most of the season with United and Arsenal, always being between first and fourth.”
“I think we can become a top team in two or three years. We have improved a lot and this for me is a good squad and I am very proud to be here.
“In football the situation can change every five weeks but, in my opinion, Manchester City will be one of the top clubs in Europe in the next five years.”
Fast forward to this evening, and Mancini’s side were hammered 3-0 at Anfield by Kenny Dalglish’s energetic Liverpool.
A humiliating performance from the blue side of Manchester, saw Andy Carroll score twice for the home side and Dirk Kuyt once, as City folded like poker player with a two-seven start hand.
Mancini’s expensively-assembled side had creator-in-chief David Silva and midfield destroyer Nigel De Jong – unquestionably two of City’s most important players – both left on the substitutes bench until the second half. Quite why is anyone’s guess.
Without the two World Cup finalists who comprise much of the spine of this City side on the field of play – Carlos Tevez would leave with what looked like a torn hamstring after the opening goal, also, leaving only Vincent Kompany who was alone in being blameless during City’s first-half horrorshow – City had about as much resistance as a hungry student who has just received their student loan.
Of the players on the field, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure were dominated by Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva at the heart of midfield, Dedryck Boyata was shaky (at best) at right-back, Aleksander Kolarov looked as sound defensively as Poland in 1939.
In attack Edin Dzeko looked less likely to score than Fernando Torres has in recent weeks, whilst Mario Balotelli was so incomparably bad that he was eventually substituted, despite being Tevez replacement.
All in all, on a night when City would have returned to third in the table with a win, Mancini’s side were nothing short of abysmal. After going behind they showed no sign of fight or urgency, and looked resigned to defeat.
Indeed, Ray Wilkins, the Sky Sports commentator and former Chelsea assistant manager, noted how morose and dispirited the players looked. He was undoubtedley correct.
This wasn’t a City side in the midst of a negative set of results either. Far from it. Only eight days ago they had destroyed Sunderland 5-0, playing some gloriously inventive football. Tonight however, we saw everything that is wrong with City.
Slow, laborious, uncreative, directionless and unhappy. Five words to describe City’s players and their performances this evening, typified by James Milner. During his 60 minutes on the field the England international didn’t look as though he knew where he was meant to be playing, and his reaction upon being replaced by Silva in the second half… Well to say he wasn’t delighted as he walked straight past Roberto Mancini and onto the bench without acknowledging his manager, would be an understatement.
Faced by energetic, eager opponents, City quite simply didnt fancy it. They appeared resgined to defeat after Carroll’s second goal and surrendered the remainder of the match.
Now they are in a fight for fourth-place, with a Tottenham Hotspur side who are in all likelihood going to be focused on their league placing only when the next round of fixtures come around, and who are prepared to fight for their manager and for another crack at the Champions League.
Spurs are only three points behind City, with a game in hand, and a trip to the City of Manchester Stadium to come.
Just like last season, when Spurs won 1-0 through a solitary Peter Crouch goal to book their place in this seasons Champions League, it’s looking likely that the two sides will do battle once more to see who will earn a spot in next seasons premier club competition.
And if City perform on Tuesday May 10 against Harry Redknapp’s side as they did at Anfield this evening, then you can’t bet against the side from north London. Thus, if lightning were to strike once again, City’s hopes of making next seasons Champions League could well evaporate, along with Roberto Mancini’s job.
The inconsistency of City this season, especially if they fail in their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United on Saturday, could see Mancini on the unemployment line come summer as the club’s board won’t accept another season of perceived failure.
And, whilst initially it may seem harsh, if they do choose to get rid of the former Inter Milan boss, then after a performance as abject as tonight, can you really blame them?