It hasn’t been the best couple of weeks for Roberto Mancini, has it?
The Manchester City manager hasn’t looked like a happy bunny for some time, and you can’t really blame him. If it isn’t the frankly bizarre story that emerged last week about his serious dalliance with Monaco, it is the rumours that all is not well in the City camp and, worryingly for Mancini, it is affecting what is happening on the pitch.
Apart from the sun and the huge salary, one of which he gets in Manchester (I’ll leave you to work out which one), it is difficult to say why he would want to take the Monaco job in a league that is some way below the standard of the one in which he is currently employed, but of more concern is his current side’s stuttering form.
The champions have a 4-1-1 record over their last six fixtures in all competitions, which on paper doesn’t appear bad at all. But the four wins, against Fulham, West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland and Swansea City, have been far from convincing and the two games they failed to win have put Mancini in yet another perilous position in the Champions League.
A home draw with Borussia Dortmund was a bad result, although acceptable when the performance didn’t even merit a point, but the defeat to Ajax in the Amsterdam Arena last time out has left City with a near-impossible job to get out of Group D and into the knock-out stages of Europe’s top club competition.
Of course, Mancini has been here before. City failed to get out of their group last year, demoted to the Europa League after Bayern Munich and Napoli went through, and history is about to repeat itself. One point from three games leaves City five adrift of Real Madrid in second and six behind Dortmund in first, meaning they need to win all three games to stand any chance of progressing.
And to be brutally honest, you just can’t see it happening. Mancini’s record in Europe is poor and there is no excuse to not have even reached a semi-final with teams as talented as City and Inter Milan – it is bad management and nothing else.
I don’t buy this argument that City need a few years playing at this level to succeed, either: when you’ve spent as much money as they have to fill your squad with World Cup winners and multiple title winners, then there are no excuses.
The Italian looks agitated, as his outburst at journalists before the Ajax match shows, but it is because he knows he is staring down the European barrel. Failure to beat Ajax at home is unthinkable for Mancini. I do believe, however, that he can keep his slim Champions League hopes alive for another few weeks at least.
City are 2/5 to beat the Dutch title holders, with the draw at 4/1 and the away win at 11/2, and the Citizens should be winning this one with a reasonable amount of comfort.
Ajax were by far and away the better side in victory over the Premier League champions and Frank de Boer is doing a great job on a fraction of the budget enjoyed by his opposite number. His young, exciting team can be great to watch, but their Achilles heel is always likely to be their undoing and City should be looking to profit from Ajax’s dodgy rearguard.
De Boer’s side have kept just one clean sheet in the last seven games, letting in 13 goals in the process, and City’s abundance of attacking talent should be too much for the Ajax back line to cope with. Dutch teams tend not to travel well (even domestically) and I don’t see City failing to win this evening.
But with all the prices on City far too short – I don’t want to be on that 2/5 – I will get on the 21/10 that City win a match that sees over 3.5 goals. Punters registering with bwin can claim a free £20 bet and placing this on the hosts to prevail in a match featuring four or more goals would return £62 if successful.
Both sides look better going forward than they do at the back and Ajax have struck 11 goals in their last five away games, so they are capable of getting a goal and I think that price looks very tempting.
Yet I think City will end up too strong and the fact they are drinking in the last-chance saloon should bring about a performance. There should be plenty of goals – there have been 17 in Ajax’s last five matches away from Amsterdam – and I like the look of that 21/10.