x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Manchester City's title run-in requires nerves of steel

Converting talent into titles is where good managers establish themselves as greats. Sir Alex Ferguson has done it for decades; Roberto Mancini far less often than it seems at first glance.

Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, won three scudetti as coach with Inter Milan. Shaun Botterill. Getty images
Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, won three scudetti as coach with Inter Milan. Shaun Botterill. Getty images

Winding up Kevin Keegan is all well and good, but getting to a man with three successive Serie A titles to his name is surely just plain optimistic, right? Not if you're Sir Alex Ferguson, not if you've paid attention to the details.

As Manchester City shed precious Premier League points for the fifth time in six away games this weekend, Roberto Mancini left his assistant to moan about lenient refereeing and bellicose opponents. David Platt was also asked to assure us that Ferguson's suggestion that City's manager had turned "desperate" in his pursuit of the championship had not taken effect.

"He's fine, he's beyond fine," Platt said. "Robbie just laughed, he just laughed. It's not a problem to him. It's not about him and it's not about Sir Alex. It's about the two teams alone and apart."

If only it was. One of Manchester United's great strengths is their powers of self-belief.

City's squad is deeper and more talented than the one at Old Trafford, and converting talent into titles is where good managers establish themselves as greats. Ferguson has done it for decades; Mancini far less often than it seems at first glance.

None of his three Italian championships at Inter Milan required a head-to-head contest like the one he is embroiled in now.

The first in 2006 was not so much won as received; the spillover from withering Calciopoli punishments handed down to Juventus and AC Milan. In the pre-trial table, Mancini's team finished third, 15 points behind the champions.

With Juve relegated to Serie B and Milan starting with an eight-point handicap, the following campaign became a procession. Inter had the Scudetto by April with five matches still to play.

Only in 2008 did Mancini end up in a proper title race; and he almost messed that one up. Eleven points ahead of Roma at one stage, Inter collapsed down the stretch, eventually requiring a final day victory to claim the title.

When City raced ahead of all contenders in the first half of this season, Mancini always insisted his club's first serious tilt at the Premier League title would go to the wire. Aware that his midfield general Yaya Toure would be lost to the African Cup of Nations, he tried everything to persuade his employers to sign another elite midfielder to help keep United at bay. City felt his squad was already opulent enough, and declined.

Mancini knew how difficult it is to go the distance in a top league and sought extra ammunition. Unfortunately for the Italian, his direct rival knows it, too, and is bringing his every gun to bear.

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