City, Reds' cautious approach a sign of fear

BY foxsports • February 22, 2010

If you happened to be flicking through the television channels yesterday morning looking for some football and you landed on Manchester City versus Liverpool, I want to apologize because that was not football.

What we witnessed instead was a culture of fear - a fear of losing so pervasive that it stopped managers from managing and players from playing football the way it was meant to be played.

Now I understand that there was a great deal of pressure surrounding the match with 4th place and ultimately Champions League qualification at stake, but the attitude of both teams, coaches and players was a major disappointment to all that is good and positive about the Premiership.

The fear of losing meant that City boss Roberto Mancini and Liverpool gaffer, Rafa Benitez began this vital match with eight defenders, four defensive midfielders, two destroyers, one complete donkey, Maxi Rodriguez and just the one recognized striker, in the form of Emmanuel Adebayor - I called it 0-0 after five minutes.

Of the two clubs, I suppose Liverpool will be happier, earning a point at the home of one of their chief rivals but the manner in which they achieved it felt cheap and dirty. They literally kicked City off the park, earning six yellow cards and a Premier League fine in the process. How Javier Mascherano didn’t earn his third red card of the season for that tackle on Gareth Barry, only referee Peter Walton has the answer to.

Any creativity was chopped, pulled, stamped and pushed out of the game by a Benitez side that was set up not to lose because they were terrified of losing.

For sure Benitez has been hit hard by the injury bug when it comes to flair players that have the ability to change a game, the lack of spark from his club was all too depressingly familiar.

The match changer on display, Steven Gerrard (so often the talisman), looked uninterested and seems to have his mind on this summer and South Africa. While Ryan Babel is not Liverpool or even Premiership caliber and unfortunately the two players that do have the required magic, Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun, were not 100% fit.

In past seasons I’ve always felt that Liverpool had the ability and courage to rise to the occasion. Coming into this clash it felt like the perfect opportunity to upset a fragile City outfit. Unfortunately Benitez no longer has the ability to inspire his team and with the rumors of an impending summer move to Juventus refusing to die down, who’s to say that the Spaniard hasn’t mentally mailed it in.

As bad as the Reds were though, I’m not backing down from the prediction I made a few weeks ago that they would finish fourth because the blue half of Manchester seems pretty spineless and gripped by even more fear than the Merseysiders.

I can’t help but wonder what ex-City boss, Mark Hughes makes of all this, as the club has barely moved forward an inch since sacking him. Mancini for all his continental suaveness has seamlessly adopted the ‘Benitez’ approach of ‘we must not lose’.

Sure it’s not the roller coaster of emotions the Welshman put City through but I feel tightness in my stomach whenever they play. Maybe it’s because the cast, despite wanting to be A-list, has a distinctly B-list quality to it.

Mancini was advertised as the man who could gel all the egos and cajole top quality performances out of his side on a weekly basis. To date in my book he has failed and with the shadow of Jose Mourinho following him around the football globe, his courage is deserting him at crucial times.

He must pass the big tests to be taken seriously and you only do that if you’re bold, brave and willing to think outside the box.

Just looking at his bench from Sunday and you can’t help but note that of the seven bench warmers only two were out-and-out attacking players, Craig Bellamy and Roque Santa Cruz. Roberto, this is the Premiership, not Serie A, the object is to win the game, not bore the punters to death.

At the end of the day City’s problem is that they are cloaked in failure. It’s been 34 years since a major trophy and they’ve simply forgotten how to win. It’s safer and easier to lose. They have a built-in excuse, just look at the Carling Cup semi-final versus Man United.

Now that was a statement match waiting to happen. It should’ve caused a seismic shift but it didn’t. Which makes me wonder whether Roberto Mancini is a winner?

He was a winner when he was coach of Inter but that was because the Serie A was as crooked as a nine-dollar bill. As a player, two league titles (with Sampdoria and Lazio) and an assortment of minor European trophies suggest that it travels in his body. But is it in his veins?

The next two months will tell us exactly what the Italian is made of.

Who knows, maybe he’ll be sharing a first class ride back to Italy with Mr. Benitez later this summer and they can both discuss the fear of losing.

Until then, I’ll see you at the far post.

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