Can Roberto Mancini survive if City title challenge fails?
Manchester City manager's fate in the balance as he appears to have lost control of top players
ROBERTO MANCINI'S future at Manchester City will be reviewed at the end of the season. But while he retains the support of chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarek, according to The Daily Telegraph, City's recent run of poor form and the manager's often volatile relationship with some senior players have clearly put his future at risk.
The pressure on City intensified last night as Manchester United pulled five points clear at the top of the table with a 2-0 win over Blackburn Rovers. Just one month ago, on March 3, City themselves were five points clear of United. United have also whittled down City's superior goal difference from 17 in mid-December to just one today.
United have also now scored more goals than City, which, as Alex Ferguson said last night, might prove critical at the end of the season.
In what would be a nightmare scenario for City fans, United could the seal the title with a derby win at the Etihad Stadium on April 30 – if the two teams match each others' results in fixtures leading up to that game.
Getting rid of Mancini at the end of the season wouldn't be a great expense to City because he will have only 12 months left on his £3.5 million-a-year contract. But it will be a horrible comedown for a manager who so recently was riding high.
Mancini was set the target of winning the league last summer, and has spent £202 million on 17 senior players since replacing Mark Hughes as City manager in December 2009.
But as City's form has faltered, so Mancini's behaviour has become more bizarre – refusing to shake Tony Pulis's hand, raging against City's medical staff, shrugging his shoulders at Mario Balotelli's antics but seeming to have no control over the striker. It all suggests the pressure is getting to him.
While Alex Ferguson treated his squad to a team-building round of golf at St Andrews over the weekend, Mancini seems to have difficulty stopping his players from jetting off to Europe on days off: Balotelli, Pablo Zabaleta and Nigel de Jong have all taken foreign jaunts in the past ten days.
This apparent loss of control and lack of unity – with even model professionals like Gareth Barry and James Milner struggling to control their frustration - could decide not just who wins the title, but whether or not Mancini keeps his job.
Mancini's fate could rest on whether an outstanding replacement candidate becomes available. ABC Punto Radio, in Spain, claimed last week that Jose Mourinho's representatives had already been negotiating with City - a claim that Mourinho and Real Madrid have denied.