But amidst the bruised egos and aching limbs, Roberto Mancini’s men will have to lift their heads and carry on – they may be 6 points behind the leaders but there are 22 more games to be played and, even as it stands now, all to play for.
They can still retain the title, despite both Sir Alex Ferguson and Mancini’s comments before the game that the Premier League will be a two-horse race and that the head-to-heads between the two rivals will decide who lifts the trophy.
Sell and replace Balotelli
The first thing that was abundantly clear from Sunday’s clash at the Etihad is that Mario Balotelli is not helping – yes, he occasionally produces quality, but he is not a consistent enough performer and never has been. If you look at the United strike quartet of van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, and Danny Welbeck, Ferguson has bought and produced a strike-force that operates as an efficient machine not entirely dissimilar to that of the treble-winning quartet.
Mancini has his trio of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, and Edin Dzeko who, in my estimation are three of the best forwards in the world. Balotelli is the weakest link – his attitude stinks, his bravado is immature and has a negative impact on his team. The only hotheaded players that survive are the ones who produce magical moments and, above all else, create and score goals. Balotelli has netted just thrice this season and must be sold, and replaced in January.
Extra cover in defence, or Micah Richards must return
Secondly, and still on the subject of transfers, City need to acquire another defender – replacing Vincent Kompany with Kolo Toure in the biggest game of the season so far is not going to win Mancini the title. He needs more adequate cover for his backline.
The return of Micah Richards would solve this, who is versatile at right-back and centre-half. He is currently rehabilitating a knee injury, and hopes to be available in January, but if he suffers a setback City may want to consider reinforcements.
Rest and prepare better
Mancini has build a squad that is quite capable of winning trophies – the fact that they are now out of the Champion’s League and the Capital One Cup should be used to their advantage. They can rest players and rotate more effectively than United. They have more time between fixtures to prepare physically, mentally and tactically.
Mancini ought to use the time appropriately, working with the players more meticulously and with a higher intensity in the run up to league fixtures.
Win at Old Trafford
The fourth thing and, arguably, the most crucial, is City will probably have to beat United at Old Trafford. Their return derby fixture is scheduled for April 6th 2013 and they must win that game.
It’s possible that, depending on the 15 games in between now and then; United could run away with it regardless. But in the Premier League there are no easy games and United are unlikely to go 15 games unbeaten.
A draw here, an own goal there and that six-point lead could very easily be diminished come April. City will have to perform well and win as many of those games as possible to ensure they’re still chasing. Then they must get a result at Old Trafford. They did it last season, they can do it again.
Hang onto Mancini
But, by far the most important thing of all is they need to hang on to their manager. Chelsea’s revolving door of managerial disasters should serve as a warning to the City board – they need to keep Mancini at the club and not let the media whip up a sacking storm in a teacup every other week.
He’s bought the right players, and he’s got them playing well together – in the first half of the weekend’s game, City were outstanding in their attacking play and that is down to the ambition and intelligence of the manager.
It’s my opinion that if they can keep Mancini, beat United in April, replace Balotelli, get a defender (or Richards), and use their surplus rest and preparation effectively, they can still lift the trophy in May. United may have won the battle, but the war is far from over.
images: © Gene Hunt