Date: 9th February 2013 at 7:49pm
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Mancini’s Magical Mystery Selections took centre stage ahead of today’s encounter with Southampton. With Yaya returning from African Cup of Nations duty ahead of schedule, he was at once restored to the midfield that needed him last week against Liverpool, but with Kolo also back, Garcia was given the centre back berth alongside Lescott. There was no place for Kompany who travelled but wasn’t in the squad and I don’t know if Nastasic is injured but neither he nor Tevez were on the bench either.

Inexplicably, Milner didn’t get a starting berth either, the manager going with serial underachiever Nasri. So no forwards on the bench to cover for Dzeko and Aguero, but at least City were forced to play my preferred forwards from the start.

This was an unexpectedly tricky fixture at home on the season’s starting day with City scraping home 3-2. The Saints are always a handful in their own stadium old or new so the Blues would have to be on their collective toes today. Indeed, the Saints went into an NFL-style pre-match huddle to get themselves in the mood!

The Saints were clearly instructed to close City’s space down and hold a high line. That is not always the best tactic against City as it gives Merlin license to thread his passes through for Aguero to use his pace. City too were pushing up so the match looked as though it was being played around the half way line.

But after seven minutes the evening’s work had a long feel to it as of all people Barry got caught in possession by Puncheon, City were caught too narrow but a combined block by Yaya and Hart kept it out only for the ball to return to Puncheon who promptly punched it home.

City then seemed to take over the match without causing any trouble at all at the Southampton end of things. Zaba was working his socks off down the right with Nasri often ignoring his runs, turning inside into trouble. Indeed he must have thought he was playing for Arsenal he passed to that many red shirts. And then after 23 minutes Southampton struck again. A fairly routine shot by Lambert saw Hart let it through his arms and legs to the unexpectant Davis who had the simplest of tasks in slotting it home.

This now had nightmare written all over it. City had a lot of the ball but the nets needed to be on the touchlines, not at each end. Not a thing was happening up front, when finally after 38 minutes Nasri found the blue shirt of Silva who at last read Zabaleta’s run and played him in. As usual Zaba created the confusion and slid the ball along the six yard line for Dzeko to elicit an improvised neat chip to reduce the arrears.

Ahead of half time Silva should have levelled it up but his shot was tame. Also ahead of half time Southampton were unfortunate not to get a penalty when Yaya brought someone down from behind and the ball went for a corner off his arm.

It got worse as the second half started. Southampton once again were forcing issues and a break down the left saw an inbound low cross turned into his own net beautifully by Barry. Mr Dependable often eulogised in these pages was having a nightmare, having now been responsible for handing the Saints two goals and leaving his colleagues with a mountain to climb. Mancini like us couldn’t believe what he was watching. Everything was turning to rubbish before our very eyes. No Tevez to turn to and two strikers who had only had one sniff between them in fifty minutes.

If City could get out of this prison it would be a miracle. When would Nasri’s number come up so that at least the Blues would have eleven on the pitch?

Aguero finally got in a shot on 55 minutes but it was well saved by Boruc. That proved to be City’s last sight of goal. At least Milner was warming up, now would the no.8 come up on the fourth official’s board. Yes! For me, now it would have been three at the back, put Garcia in front with Barry and let Yaya loose to help out up front. But Southampton showed no signs of the sheepish surrender they put in against Stretford earlier this season and City were simply being overrun in the middle of the park. They were playing City at their own game but simply, more effectively. City’s game had an air of desperation about it whereas the Saints had an assuredness about them that didn’t tell me they were going to let this go.

Next to be replaced was Lescott who headed for an ice bag, with Kolarov coming on. It was definitely 3-5-2 now but with Garcia still in there and no recognised central defender. No wonder Mancini was going greyer by the minute and poor old Kiddo not doing much better.

Mancini’s final throw of the dice saw Maicon replace Silva. Why? Maybe it is a new Plan B to use two wide men to get something into Dzeko? City really needed a laser direction finder as the Southampton legs were in no mood to fly the white flag in what was becoming City’s worst performance and result of the Mancini era..

Nothing continued to happen for the Blues despite 5 minutes of stoppage time. Let’s make no mistake about this, City were outplayed and out thought by a team that cost comparatively nothing, but a team that gave everything it had for 97 minutes. City had clearly not expected this and clearly had not prepared for this. You start a match with your best available team. You do not leave out centre backs and play a midfielder there unless there is no alternative. Kolo might not be everybody’s cup of tea but he is a centre back. For me, also the best available eleven today did not include Nasri. He has done nothing this season and always flatters to deceive. This game needed the Milner-Zabaleta axis down the right, not Nasri. At times Dzeko and Aguero were isolated, so send Yaya in there.

Southampton were simply superb in the effort they put in. City helped them out with the goals but this is a serious defeat for City. If last week against Liverpool was last season’s Sunderland at home, this was worse than Swansea away. I have complained about the fixture gods putting Stretford before City but when City needed to play first they got their chance and blew it. Sunday, they will find themselves 12 points behind and all that remains is for Bernard Halford to get out the Dura Glit and send the trophy with G4S to the other end of The Mancunian Way.

Mancini doesn’t need a hairdryer tonight he needs a space heater and to start pointing it at himself first. There was no urgency in this team today, no motivation and very little football. They got what they deserved, in fact they didn’t even deserve to lose 3-1. Hart’s comic cuts laziness in dealing with the second goal summed it up. City were second to the balls they were first for. The game showed and highlighted the lack of pace around the team, the lack of drive from midfield and the lack of an alternative. If Mancini plays another of his selection tricks next week and they get knocked out of the FA Cup not only will the season come to a shuddering halt, but so could his tenure.

When the Pedmachine was younger he dreamed of City having just one of the type of player they have today. Now with a team full of them that has let him down, it is no wonder he is down in the dumps. City have had this coming this season and now need to listen to their manager’s decree that they need to win every match and with Chelsea up next having won 4-1 today does it look like happening?

Today the Saints went marching in and the Blues went marching out.

all times East Manchester

Su 17Feb 14h00 Leeds United, The Etihad, FAC5
Su 24Feb 13h30 Chelsea, The Etihad, PL
Mo 04Mar 20h00 Aston Villa, Villa Park, PL
Sa 09Mar 15h00 Wigan, The Etihad, PL
Sa 16Mar 12h45 Everton, Goodison Park, PL
Sa 30Mar 15h00 Newcastle, The Etihad, PL