Tuesday night saw the final proof that Manchester City really are becoming a genuine rival to their great neighbours – their manager has got moaning about the referee down to a tee.
Roberto Mancini’s reaction to the 2-2 draw against Ajax at the Etihad Stadium that all but ends his team’s interest in the Champions League for another year was straight from the Fergie Big Book of Deflecting Attention Away from a Damaging Defeat (post-match interview edition) and revealed a man who knows that he is becoming increasingly unable to outrun his terrible European record.
There is no doubt that City had a perfectly good goal ruled out for a non-existent offside with two minutes left, as well as a very strong shout for a penalty in the dying seconds when Mario Balotelli had his shirt pulled in the box. But if Mancini believes he can kid anyone into thinking that a couple of decisions late on in Matchday 4 are the real reason why City aren’t qualifying for the last 16, he’s obviously been on the same whiskey as Lord Purple Nose.
They won’t be in the knock-out stages – they might not even be in the Europa League at this rate – because they have been poor, end of story. As he did repeatedly with Inter Milan, Mancini is failing abjectly at Europe’s top table with City and he is running out of excuses.
He knows it too, hence that pathetic sight of him running on to the pitch at the end of the game to remonstrate with the officials – an act that should be beneath him. But pressure can make managers act in funny ways and this is the latest episode in what has been a strange and unsatisfactory season for City.
Their European travails aside, they haven’t maximised their potential at all in the league so far, yet remain unbeaten and just two points off Manchester United at the top of the table. But the constant rumours of unrest, particularly from the players towards Mancini and his ill-judged flirtations with 3-5-2, won’t go away, while the bizarre story about the Italian’s dalliance with Monaco further enforces the thinking that all is not well at the Etihad.
Of course, these things, such as the appointment of Txiki Begiristain, which led to more speculation about the manager’s future, tend not to matter so much if the team is performing well. But City are not and the visit of Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday looks like a match they could do without at this stage.
The champions are 3/5 to secure three points, with the draw at 31/10 and Spurs priced at 4/1, and I think there is mileage in backing the visitors to get something here.
Mancini’s side won the Premier League last year because of their form at home, where they won 18 of their 19 fixtures, but already this year the Etihad has proved to be a less intimidating place to go.
Granted, City have won four of their five league games, but they were laboured in beating Southampton and Swansea, and were lucky to escape with a draw when Arsenal visited. And as well as failing to beat Ajax and Borussia Dortmund, a much-changed side lost to Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup and I really feel a home defeat is round the corner.
Will it be Spurs who inflict it? Well, they were abject themselves when they lost to Wigan Athletic at White Hart Lane last weekend, but Tottenham have been better on the road this year and look a decent price at 5/4 to avoid defeat.
New bwin customers who register here can claim a free £20 bet and placing this on Spurs to pick up a point or better from their trip to Manchester would return £45 if successful.
Andre Villas-Boas has his own rumours of unrest to deal with and you can see the natives seem to be getting a little restless with the former Chelsea boss as his side labour at home. But away from the Lane it is a different story, partly because of the lack of pressure from the crowd, partly because the team is set up to play quickly on the counter-attack.
Tottenham have won three away league games in succession and the victories at Reading, Manchester United and Southampton were all great examples of playing on the break. I think Spurs have the tools to damage a City defence that has conceded 13 goals in nine home games and kept just two clean sheets at the Etihad (and one of those was against Sunderland, which doesn’t really count).
So I expect Spurs to score at least one goal and I think they are perfectly set up to exploit City’s weaknesses. Tottenham have a great record at the Etihad, too, and have avoided defeat in seven of their last ten trips. At 5/4, take a chance on them doing so again.