Mancini was in a defiant mood on Friday when responding to suggestions made by the defender Micah Richards that some members of his squad are unhappy playing three at the back. During Wednesday night's disastrous 3-1 defeat by Ajax, City appeared to employ no fewer than three separate formations. "If you are a top player, it is not important what system you use," the Manchester City manager countered.
"If you don't understand that, then you are not a top player and you cannot play for a top club. I understand what people are writing but we work every day here on tactical situations. We didn't concede when we changed the system [to three at the back] we conceded a third because of a stupid mistake in a one-versus-one."
Mancini said he is not interested in reports of unrest, particularly among Manchester City's English contingent, but pointed out that his team beat Chelsea in the Community Shield using that formation. However, it was a system they also employed in an embarrassing 4-2 defeat by Aston Villa in the League Cup and against Liverpool at Anfield, in a match Brendan Rodgers's side had the better of.
Nevertheless, Mancini was insistent "With this system we have got a result every time," he said. "Maybe Micah doesn't know this because he has been out for two and a half months. He has probably worked on it less than other players but the next time we play this system Micah can stay on the bench and we will use another player who understands the system."
Mancini, whose side host Swansea City on Saturday evening, was in no mood for excuses. He did not, as some managers would have done, deflect criticism from the back four by arguing they needed support from their midfield. "No, that is an excuse," he said. He also did not take the easy option of saying this was a problem confined to the Champions League. "In Europe the pitch is the same and the players are the same and we are not facing 12 or 13 opponents. The problem is that we didn't play well against Borussia Dortmund [1–1] and were so-so against Ajax."
Having won the FA Cup and the championship on the basis of a well-drilled defence, superbly marshalled by his captain Vincent Kompany, Mancini's efforts to refine it appear to have misfired badly. It is perhaps also significant that Kompany has been out of form.
This season they have kept one clean sheet in their opening 13 games and conceded 22 times. Last season, the same number of fixtures saw them keep five clean sheets and concede at the rate of a goal a game. Nevertheless, Mancini vehemently denied this had anything to do with the appointment of Angelo Gregucci as the club's new coach. "Stop, stop, stop," he interrupted when the subject was brought up.
"In two months, he has never worked with the defenders. Maybe for a day because we haven't had the time and we have had a lot of injured players," he said before being asked if he knew his best defence? "At the moment we don't have a best defence."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Andrew Brannan