It’s squeaky bum time

2012-04-07 00:00

THERE are only seven matches left in what has been a riveting Premier League season and, surprise surprise, it is looking increasingly likely that Old Trafford will retain what is the most sought after piece of silverware in the English game.

You never doubted it for a second, did you? Well, many Manchester United fans may have this time around. It wasn’t too long ago that Roberto Mancini’s City seemed worth every penny of their gargantuan wage roster.

United were looking far from their best and it appeared that Sir Alex was on the verge of being knocked off his own perch by the team he hates losing to most.

And then came “squeaky bum time”.

Mancini seems to have lost the plot in recent weeks. It all started with the decision to recall Carlos Tevez from his extended South American vacation after assuring the world that the striker would never play for City again.

The boss’s change of heart reeked of desperation and was the first sign of his losing control.

And then there’s Balotelli. How do you solve a problem like Mario? Based on his childlike temper tantrum against Sunderland last week, it’s safe to say that Mancini has no idea. The playground screaming match between Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov last week spoke volumes about the current state of City’s season — it has just about fallen to pieces. Whenever Mancini’s men take to the field there is an abundance of quality in every position on the pitch and every seat on the bench. Inconceivable amounts of money have been spent to ensure exactly that. But Chelsea fans will be the first to tell you that when a manager has that much money at his disposal and fails to deliver the goods, then the exit door is where he’s headed.

There is no doubt that, in Mancini, City have a world class manager who has worked with some of the biggest names in the game. But if he completes this campaign without anything to show for his efforts, then what will the plan be for next season? Is one FA Cup triumph since his arrival at the club in 2009 enough to convince his Emirati owners that he is the man for the job? You would like to think that not every football owner is as trigger happy as Roman Abramovich and that Mancini’s pedigree will be enough to keep him around, but we footie fans know better.

Of course, this is all assuming that City finish second. And while that does appear to be the most likely outcome, anything can happen. But you can’t help but feel that tomorrow is going to be a massive day in the title race.

United are up first and host Queens Park Rangers in a match you only see going one way.

If United win they go eight points clear at the top and will then put their feet up while they watch their neighbours do battle at the Emirates against Arsenal.

It couldn’t really be a worse weekend for Mancini. Anything but a victory for his charges tomorrow will surely spell the end of City’s title challenge.

It might be different if he was going up against, well, anybody else. But Sir Alex Ferguson and United have done it all before.

The Scotsman has come out on top of more title races than any other manager in English football’s history. And while he has run United close this time around, one is tempted to put Mancini in the same box as Kevin Keegan and Rafa Benitez.

All three are victims of squeaky bum time. All three backed themselves to play mind games with Sir Alex and lost. All three were denied victory because they choked in the run in.

A little premature? Maybe. Because there is no way that anybody at United is taking anything for granted at this stage of the season. This is the business end, and a lot can go wrong. But the Red Devils and Sir Alex can just about see the finish line now and they will know exactly what they need to do to get their first. And Mancini? Well, he’ll be left wondering where it all went wrong.

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