x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Portents good for Mancini

His impact is apparent. Matches against Stoke and Wolves were eminently winnable, but the significance lies both in the results and the manner of them.

Mancini has excelled tactically and successive clean sheets is an achievement for a troubled rearguard.
Mancini has excelled tactically and successive clean sheets is an achievement for a troubled rearguard.

The sort of player capable of caressing or cushioning the ball in an instant, Roberto Mancini always possessed a wonderful first touch. As Manchester City are discovering, he is equally able to make a fine initial impression as a manager. Matches against Stoke and Wolves were eminently winnable, but the significance lies both in the results and the manner of them. Monday's victory at Molineux was the first time since the start of the season that City have won back-to-back league games, or that they have triumphed on their travels in four months in the Premier League.

Mancini's impact is apparent. Each of the triumphs can be attributed to him. Indeed, two of the goals - Martin Petrov's against Stoke and Javier Garrido's free-kick in Wolverhampton - came from players he had brought in from the cold. Successive clean sheets is an achievement for a troubled rearguard, especially after the Italian's switch to a zonal marking system at corners. And he has excelled tactically. Midway through the first half against Stoke, he moved Stephen Ireland infield to turn a two-man central midfield into a trio. At a similar point at Molineux, he switched from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2. Bold decision-making reinforces a manager's authority, especially when it succeeds. In each case, the opening goal followed Mancini's amendments.

Each alteration displayed an awareness and an understanding which was accompanied by a confidence in the accuracy of his immediate analysis. It was crucial, too, for a manager operating in a different country that he was able to convey his instructions to his new charges. It is the surest sign that his English is coherent. His relations with the Welsh and Irish appear to be progressing. Directing early praise at Craig Bellamy and Shay Given was an astute move. City's two outstanding performers this season were known to be among Hughes's admirers. Bellamy was terrific for his successor at Molineux after being a substitute against Stoke.

It was another choice to suggest that an ability to assess a situation quickly ranks among Mancini's strengths. To put it another way, it only took one game to realise that Bellamy is preferable to Robinho. It is wholehearted against half-hearted, the confrontational team man against the lackadaisical individual, their most valuable player, on current form, against their most expensive signing. If Robinho symbolises City's new-found wealth, Bellamy epitomises the will to win they require.

His partnership with Carlos Tevez seems a meeting of minds as much as a blur of activity. His decision to stay represents the first sign Mancini is winning over the dressing room. That Petrov and Vincent Kompany, two of those underused by Hughes, have started both games, is another significant development. If Bellamy operates in attack, there is a vacancy on the left flank for Petrov, a crowd favourite since his first season in Manchester. With Kolo Toure departing for the African Cup of Nations, the quietly assured Kompany has the opportunity to establish himself as City's premier central defender in the new regime.

And all in all, it promises much. There have been occasional teething troubles - he went to Stoke's second-in-command, Peter Reid, to shake hands, before being directed towards manager Tony Pulis instead - but nothing too embarrassing. Nevertheless optimism has been engendered, not least from the new man at the helm. Hughes was reluctant to suggest the title was a possibility for City. Mancini indicated otherwise, saying "all is realistic". A more publicly ambitious manager may signal a more ambitious appointment. Because while sterner tests await, it has certainly been an auspicious start for Mancini.

The finest teams tend to contain a winning blend of character and talent. So, indeed, do the greatest players, as Cesc Fabregas, during a 27-minute cameo against Aston Villa, and then Wayne Rooney, seeking to atone for his role in Hull's equaliser, showed on Sunday. They displayed the force of personality that, allied with ability, transformed draws into wins. Both are surrounded by high-calibre performers. Both possess the determination and skill to elevate themselves above their colleagues and decide games.

As it was their ninth defeat in 10 away games, there was a predictability to Burnley's 2-0 loss at Goodison Park on Monday. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that they were holding Everton when left-back Stephen Jordan was needlessly sent off. It was an instant of indiscipline to render an effective defensive gameplan redundant. It also completed an uncanny double: two days before another promoted club (Wolves) were headed for a stalemate on Merseyside (against Liverpool) when their left-back (Stephen Ward) was dismissed, prompting a 2-0 defeat.

The Birmingham City juggernaut rolls on. Unbeaten in 11, Alex McLeish's side are on the best run the club have managed in the top flight since 1908. Yet in the era of squad rotation and injury crises, perhaps the most remarkable statistic of all is this: McLeish has named the same starting XI in each of those eight games. @Email:rjolly@thenational.ae