English Premier League

Toast of the City

Will the Blue half of Manchester be toasting this man come season's end?

This past Wednesday, The Guardian reported Roberto Mancini espousing the performance benefits of a pre-match glass of red wine.  Indeed, the Renaissance of Italian managers has swept through the British isles as of late with colossal names such as Cappello, Zola, Trapattoni, and Ancelotti taking the helm of top sides at both club and country level.  Capello brought his olive oil to the cantina while Mancini has insisted pizza be added to the players’ menu.  As The Guardian notes, he’s not the first Italian to turn to the bottle either.  Gianluca Vialli apparently fired up the Chelsea dressing room with a little pre-match bubbly.

Dietary peculiarities aside, is Mancini just the beneficiary of a laughable run of fixtures or have his natty scarves and defense-minded tactics brought about the Citeh Revolution Sparky could only dream of?  Bookmakers put the Citizens’ odds of taking the Prem title at 12 to 1.  I for one, think it’s a VFM punt.  Here’s why:    

1.  This is a very weak Premiership.

None of the three teams currently ahead of City in the table are particularly scary.  Chelsea, by all accounts, should have had this thing done and dusted a month ago.  They seem unwilling to step on the throats of their closest rivals.  They’re just a very strange team.  One week they wipe the floor with Spurs and the next week get trounced by a hapless Wigan side.  If you want to win the league, you just can’t lose to Wigan or draw with Blackburn for that matter.  With Didi, JOM, and the Bison all out for the next few weeks for the ACN, Chelsea will need to be steelier against a plucky Sunderland side and the form team, Birmingham City; if they want to put themselves in pole position.

Manchester United’s financial woes have been well documented this week with the latest being the potential sale of Carrington, their training ground, to raise much needed funds.  It’s becoming more and more apparent that the 60 mil (80 for Ronaldo minus 20 for Valencia) just isn’t there for Lord Ferg to spend.  If Wazza does his metatarsal in again (remember the Spring before WC 2006?) than the hopes of Red Manchester are riding on the newly shorn (but still misfiring) Dimitar Berbatov and a 30+ year-old, injury prone Mickey Owen.    And considering the wild speculation over the futures of Nani, Vidic, Carrick, etc., United are hanging on by a thread.

Sure, Arsenalogists will tell you their Gooners are only 3 points adrift but with RVP out until May and Fabregas picking up a hammy injury every other week, their own paper thin roster doesn’t seem up to the task of competing on four different fronts.  Something’s got to give.  And what does signing a 35 year-old Sol Campbell tell you about Senderos and Silvestre?  If Alex Song and/or Eboue go down at the ACN, their goose is cooked.  If the Professor doesn’t loosen the purse strings to get a front man to lead the line (Dzeko?) then you can all but forget about title aspirations.

2.  Sheikh Mansour has more money than you.

And he has more money than me.  And more money than Roman and the Glazers and Kroenke put together.  In fact, Mansour’s family controls an empire worth somewhere north of 750 billion dollars.  It’s why they can buy donkeys like Bridge, Lescott, Toure, and now Vieria, and it doesn’t matter much.  They can simply bust out the checkbook and sign another starting back four.  They can set their money on fire by purchasing a new Santa and it won’t affect their transfer kitty in the slightest.  Of course, they’ll have to pay a City tax, a premium on any transfers because teams they want to do business with know just how deep their pockets are.  After all, this is the family that wrote off Dubai’s debt in one fell swoop.  But want-aways like Benzema, Ribery, Huntelaar, Dzeko, etc. are all there for the taking should Mancini wish to bolster the attack.

3.  The purse isn’t the only thing deep.

Look at City’s attacking options:  Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tevez, Craig Bellamy, Benjani, Adebayor, Robinho, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Martin Petrov, Stephen Ireland, Michael Johnson- the list goes on and on and on.  Any one of these players could be automatic starters on 3/4 of the rest of the Premier League.  Yet, not one is guaranteed a place in Mancini’s first XI.

And their defenders:  De Jong, Kompany, Bridge, Lescott, Toure, Zabaleta, Garrido, Richards, Gareth Barry, Vieira.  They’re stacked in the back and right in front of the back four as well.  They have quality and they have experience.  Much unlike United and Arsenal who are just not good enough and just not old enough.  De Jong has been a revelation and it looks like Mancini could be the right man to get the best out of Micah Richards.  Not to mention Shay Given is one of the top 5 goalies in the world.

4.  They have in-form players.

The past two seasons, Chelsea’s players have peaked in September and October.  They mauled teams under Scolari and Ancelotti the past two summers and falls.  But as we all know, titles aren’t won in September and October, they’re won in February and March.  City drew about a million games in a row and still only find themselves 7 points off the pace.  And their players are starting to hit their stride.  The man Fergie couldn’t afford refused to pay, Carlos Tevez, is setting the world on fire.  He simply can’t miss.  The Barclay’s December player of the month is a shoe-in to pick it up again this month.  And the resurgence of Martin Petrov is further evidence that Mark Hughes’ sacking was warranted.

However, the first real test for Roberto Mancini is tomorrow evening at Goodison.  Will Zabaleta be able to keep pace with Landycakes?  Will the cheeky chip shots of Tevez work against Timmy Howard?

Only time will tell if we can raise a glass of red and say Salute, Roberto!

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