Comparisons are being drawn between the Manchester City of Mark Hughes and that of Roberto Mancini.
Current and former masters meet
Parallels do not always involve the right lines. With the same number of points as they had accumulated at the equivalent stage of last season, fewer goals scored as well as fewer conceded, comparisons are being drawn between the Manchester City of Mark Hughes and that of Roberto Mancini. The comparisons will mushroom today when Hughes, for the first time, faces his former club as Fulham play host to City.
For Mancini, almost a year into his reign, it represents a barometer of progress. For Hughes it is an opportunity for revenge. A win for either manager would inevitably suggest his methods are superior, even if it proves an anomaly over the course of a season.
The comparisons bring contrasts. Hughes's City regressed in his first year in charge, finishing 10th. They recruited largely from England in a bid to assemble a team who would not need time to acclimatise and, 12 months ago, it was already apparent that policy was backfiring as the defence of Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott and Wayne Bridge failed to gel.
A year on, City are building from the back, as their defensive record indicates; yet, paradoxically, it is too soon to judge Mancini's signings. Injuries have curtailed the appearances of the full-backs Aleksandar Kolarov and Jerome Boateng, Mario Balotelli has spent much of his City career on the sidelines. Meaningful assessments can be made about only three of the six summer additions: Yaya Toure, David Silva and James Milner.
Mancini is engaged on a rebranding exercise, looking for efficiency at the expense of eccentricity. The aim is to display the consistency of champions, not the unpredictability that has long been City's hallmark. The setbacks against Sunderland and Wolverhampton Wanderers notwithstanding, no signs have been seen of the mayhem that characterised last November's 3-3 home draw with Burnley.
Mancini has spent the season comfortably ensconced in the top four. For all the brickbats, Champions League football is a probability at Eastlands. That was not the case this time last year.
The intrigue today is provided by the presence of Hughes's recruits. If value for money is no objective then Carlos Tevez is the best of them; indeed, a reliance upon the captain to score is a concern for Mancini.
The goalkeeper Joe Hart apart, the spine of today's side - Vincent Kompany, Nigel de Jong and Tevez - comprises three of Hughes's signings, potential ammunition for Mancini's detractors. Toure, Kompany's regular sidekick at the back, actually improved after the change at the helm, despite being stripped of the captaincy.
Hughes, understandably, takes the view that his time at Eastlands was curtailed prematurely; Mancini is less likely to suffer the same fate this December.
As Hughes manages a smaller club with a lower budget, this is an opportunity to embarrass Mancini. The parallels between the pair are inexact, but, after recent stumbles, it would be an auspicious time for the Italian to show that City are on the right lines.
8pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 3