With Manchester City unlikely to retain their title, should Roberto Mancini keep his job? Richard Jolly looks at the key areas for the Italian.
The methods of Roberto Mancini under the microscope at Manchester City
Manchester City's Uefa Champions League campaign was over soon after it began. Their title challenge continues but, with Manchester United 15 points clear, it is unlikely in the extreme that they will retain their crown.
And so, even if he wins the FA Cup, Roberto Mancini is set to fail in his two main objectives for the season. But while speculation about the Italian's future has become a constant, is it his fault and should he stay or go?
The title race
The league table does not make pretty reading for City. Yet the reality is that only goal difference separated them from Manchester United last season and Sir Alex Ferguson then went out and signed Robin van Persie, the league's best player, while City have suffered far more from injuries than they did in their title-winning campaign.
So there is a logic to United's lead. City's success prompted their rivals to spend and they may actually not be underachieving. They have lost the fewest games - three, joint with United - but have drawn six more. The difference, Mancini could argue, is the clinical Van Persie.
The Champions League
A major black mark against the manager's name. While City went out in the group stage last season, they claimed a respectable 10 points. This time, it was a miserable three.
While City deserved better than defeat away against Real Madrid, they were fortunate to get a point at home to Borussia Dortmund and, needing six points against Ajax, took one. Mancini's Champions League record - never getting past the quarter-finals - does not inspire optimism and is getting worse. He has struggled to find the appropriate balance between defence and attack on the continent, where some of his selections have been strange.
Controversial when Mancini kept swapping to a back three in autumn, though that was not as strange as the manager's critics would suggest.
The Italian will invariably change personnel, and sometimes formation, when his side need a goal.
It often works: City are at their most prolific in the final half-hour, when Mancini has assessed a game and made his moves. Domestically, anyway, his tinkering is largely successful.
Style of play
Had the question been asked two years ago, the answer would have been "defensive". Yet while City focused on solidity in 2010/11, Mancini has been an eager attacker more recently.
City scored 93 league goals last season and the Italian has spent much of the current campaign complaining they are not as prolific. Sides with their ambition require a progressive game, not least in the global battle for hearts and minds, but while Mancini may not have the passing ethos of Barcelona, nor is he a puritan.
Last summer's, with the notable exception of Matija Nastasic, have delivered little so far and Mancini's buys are a mixed bag.
Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero have been major successes but all came at a cost. Mancini does not have a reputation as a bargain hunter and he rarely suggests he is concerned about Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, which has to be a worry for City.
But the Italian is not merely shifting the blame when he criticises the former City sporting director Brian Marwood for their failures in the transfer market last summer: he has a point.
Mancini is a fine judge of a world-class player. Some would say that is not hard but he wanted Van Persie, Eden Hazard, Daniele de Rossi and Javi Martinez last summer. Had City signed even one of them, their season could have been very different.
This year, he likes Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and Radamel Falcao. None would be cheap but they are signs of the manager's ambition and his approach. He may demand a lot of his board but he asks as much of his players and himself.
Questionable. While the chief executive Ferran Soriano and the sporting director Txiki Begiristain come from Barcelona, where young players often progress smoothly into the first team, the hire-and-fire policy too many Italian clubs employ encourages short-termism and deters managers from blooding newcomers.
Mancini is a product of his homeland and, while City's academy is excellent, their emerging players remain on the margins. Between them, Karim Rekik, Abdul Razak, Denis Suarez, Marcos Lopes and John Guidetti have made a solitary league start this season.
Next year, therefore, has to be a breakthrough year for at least one, especially if, with FFP in mind, City sell some squad players. Is Mancini the man to ease them into the side?
Mancini can be charming and funny. That, however, is not the impression his players get from a colder figure unafraid of criticising them in public.
The perfectionist in Mancini means he invariably wants better and is willing to say so. Some respond better than others - Samir Nasri, who may need an arm around his shoulder, has been particularly disappointing this season while it is a moot point if Mancini's approach with Mario Balotelli worked - but he has repaired his relationship with Carlos Tevez after last season's fall-out.
Yet does it matter if a manager's players like him if they are still performing for him? Mancini's are. City's last two displays, against Leeds United and Chelsea, have been an emphatic response to the awful performance at Southampton.
Perhaps Mancini's biggest trump card. While most fans will accept, as Mancini does himself, that he has made mistakes this season, but he remains idolised.
The long-suffering City supporters know that the previous 17 managers failed to win a major trophy and their last 21 did not bring the title to the blue half of Manchester.
Chelsea are a living example of the perils of dismissing a popular manager, especially if his replacement is not someone the fans want.
And, even though they won the Champions League last season, they are scarcely an advertisement for change.
Questionable. Had Pep Guardiola not opted for Bayern Munich, it is easy to envisage City - and his former allies Soriano and Begiristain in particular - welcoming the Catalan to Manchester.
With him out of the equation, it is doubtful if City want Jose Mourinho or vice versa. So who else is definitely better than Mancini, a manager who tends to win silverware most seasons? Perhaps Dortmund's Jurgen Klopp but the shortlist would be short indeed.
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