This year will be remembered for all the best possible reasons if you have any affection for Manchester City, but as 2012 turns to 2013, there is no denying one fact – Roberto Mancini needs to buck his ideas up and fast.
Sergio Aguero’s stoppage-time winner against Queens Park Rangers in May will go down in City folklore (as well as the annals of amazing Premier League moments) and a calendar year that brought the club its first top-flight title since 1968 will be talked about forever more in the blue half of Manchester (and probably a few on the red side, as well).
But the glory of that incredible, scarcely believable day in early summer seems to have been lost and the truth is that City are already losing their grip on a title Sheikh Mansour spent so much money to claim and they have nobody to blame but themselves.
Only a fool would suggest that the league title is over, especially with Manchester United defending as shambolically as they are at the moment.
But to be seven points behind the leaders going into the final fixture of 2012 has to be considered a poor effort from the champions and for whatever reason, City have lacked all of the spark of last season and have been way, way below par from the get-go.
Add in the Capital One Cup defeat at home to Aston Villa and the woeful Champions League campaign that sees no European football at the Etihad post-Christmas and you have to say Mancini needs to sort it out and quick, because if I was him, I would be fearing for my job.
I’ve written before that Mancini isn’t all that and if we are being honest, had Manchester United not choked big-time last season, throwing away an eight-point lead with just six games left, there is every chance that the Italian wouldn’t have even begun the season as City boss.
With Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola waiting in the wings for jobs this summer, I see Mancini leaving City if things don’t improve considerably between now and May.
A tricky-looking trip to Carrow Road to face Norwich City is the Citizens’ last assignment of 2012 and it is one they can ill afford to lose. Seven points is retrievable, but should the champions go into 2013 ten points adrift of United, their title defence would surely be all but over.
City are 57/100 to win at Norwich and I think it says it all when I am not tempted to back them at that price: I would rather be on the 5/1 about the Canaries or the 11/4 on the draw.
However, my play isn’t going to be the result, but the 21/20 on under 2.5 goals, which would return £41 for new customers successfully backing it with their free £20 bet after joining bwin.com.
Norwich had won five home games on the bounce before going down narrowly 1-0 to Chelsea on Boxing Day, while City have lost just twice all year and seldom lose two games in succession.
Both have a tendency for low-scoring games: Norwich at home, Manchester City on the road. Only Stoke’s Britannia Stadium has seen fewer goals than Carrow Road this season and the 19 scored in nine games is an average of just 2.11 a match.
Yet that statistic is skewed by the 5-2 loss to Liverpool, which means that there have been just 12 goals in the other eight games in Norfolk, five of which haven’t seen as many as two goals.
It is a similar story for Mancini’s men on their travels. Games involving City away from the Etihad have also seen just 19 goals in nine fixtures.
Put the two together, and with each side averaging just over two goals a game home and away respectively, then the value has to lie with an odds-against quote on under 2.5 goals.
It is no coincidence that since the thumping by Liverpool, Norwich’s games against Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have seen just one goal apiece and Chris Hughton will set up exactly the same when the champions come to town.
Man City have long been involved in low-scoring matches – 11 of their away games last year were under 2.5 – and I like the 21/20 shout on another away day failing to produce three goals.