Mancini's frustration, Milanese malaise

By: timbersfan , 12:21 AM GMT on September 21, 2012

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Roberto Mancini looked positively livid after watching his Manchester City side draw 1-1 at Stoke. It's not hard to see why.

Peter Crouch scored Stoke’s opener after rather cravenly handling the ball not once but twice without referee Mark Clattenburg appearing to notice. (After the match, Crouch grinned and said "Yeah, you could say there was a suspicion of handball.") Mario Balotelli went down in a heap after clashing off the ball with Andy Wilkinson -- replays were inconclusive -- and again, Clattenburg did nothing. In the Stoke goal, Asmir Begovic turned into some combination of Gordon Banks, Lev Yashin and Godzilla, pulling off a string of magnificent saves. And in the dying minutes Ryan Shawcross, the epitome of grit and guts, pulled off a dramatic goal-line clearance.

Begovic and Shawcross were doing their job -- they're not supposed to make it easy for City -- and Clattenburg perhaps less so, but the whole affair left Mancini with the familiar frustration of fans, whereby players seem to have brilliant days when they happen to be your opponents and referees seem to make mistakes that hurt your side. Not that Mancini, the beneficiary of one of the biggest spending sprees in history (at least until Paris St. Germain catches up), expects much sympathy.



GettyImages / Michael Regan/Getty Images
A draw at Stoke might not seem like a bad result, but Roberto Mancini had plenty to gripe about. Will those points prove costly in the title race?


After all, he's paid handsomely to deliver and he'll get another shot Tuesday night, as City open their Champions League campaign away to Real Madrid. The fact that he'll be squaring off against Jose Mourinho -- the man who replaced him at Inter -- simply adds a delicious subtext.

As a result, there isn't much time to think about what might have been at the Britannia. But should the two points dropped end up being critical to City's fortunes come the end of the season, don't be surprised if this all comes up again.

Misery for Mourinho
Statistically, this is the worst start ever for a Mourinho-coached team. Real Madrid stands just two points above the relegation zone and, more worryingly, it's already eight points behind Barcelona and no longer controls its own destiny in La Liga.

So it's not really a surprise that he was hard on his players after Saturday’s defeat at Sevilla. ("We were bad in the first half and bad in the second half.") What came next was somewhat more surprising.

"[Our results] are about a state of mind and of two or three who aren’t thinking like the rest," he said. "They are the minds of players which are not committed and for whom football is not a priority in their lives. There aren't many involved and it's complicated, but I'm coach and if there are those less committed then it is my fault."

He added: "Right now, I don’t have a team."

It’s shocking stuff. Of course, occasionally, you do get managers who single out players for criticism, though to be fair, it’s very rare and some coaches simply never do it. (Mourinho himself usually sticks up for his men, at least in public.) But what is nearly unprecedented is a manager throwing his players under the bus without naming them.

It's one thing for a coach to take on a player head on, even in public. Quite another to not name names. Why? Because all it does is create a cloud of speculation. Which players back Mourinho? Which ones are against him? Which ones have lost interest? Who the heck knows?

What this means is that players will now likely be singled out and named as being in Mourinho's cross-hairs. They might be, they might not be. But either way, it won’t be good for the squad.

Mourinho's record -- and above all, the fact that you can count on one hand the number of players he's coached through the years who are willing to speak ill of him -- suggests that you give him the benefit of the doubt. But it takes a massive leap of faith to believe that what he said in Sevilla on Saturday night was a good idea.

Bold Buttner raises eyebrows
It’s hard to remember a more impressive Old Trafford debut than that of Alexander Buttner against Wigan on Saturday. The Dutch left back scored a wonderful goal, set up another and was a constant forward-looking presence on the flanks.

This may act as a spur to Patrice Evra to raise his game and keep his spot as a starter. Or it may signal the start of a process that will end with the passing of the baton. Either way, you feel that United's left defensive flank is in good hands.



GettyImages / Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Alex Buttner was a revelation for Manchester United this past weekend -- but how did the bombastic left back go largely unnoticed by clubs and the Dutch national team for so long?


What's remarkable about Buttner is that he did not seem to be on anyone's radar before the summer. He spent five years in Ajax's youth team but was then let go and joined Vitesse Arnhem. He made his debut for Vitesse as a 19-year-old and was a starter over the past two seasons. And yet he has yet to be capped for Holland (a team that, lest we forget, started 18-year-old Jetro Willems at Euro 2012 with disastrous results) and managed just one appearance at the Under-21 level.

It's not as if Holland have had Roberto Carlos and Paolo Maldini playing left back for them these past few years. If the Wigan game is a fair indication of Buttner's skills, then you have to ask legitimate questions of the Dutch FA's inability to spot his talents.

Milanese malaise
Milan fell 1-0 at home to Atalanta on Saturday night, the first time since 1930 that the Rossoneri lost its first two home games. We can all rattle off Massimiliano Allegri's mitigating circumstances, starting with the sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva and ending with the notion that they could seamlessly be replaced by Giampaolo Pazzini and Francesco Acerbi, respectively.

Allegri was without Riccardo Montolivo, Robinho, Cristian Zapata and Pato (though, frankly, his absence is something to just about take for granted these days) this past weekend, but the Milan manager still has to bear responsibility. If you're going to have a guy like Pazzini up front, you need to figure out a way to get him chances, because unlike Ibrahimovic, he's not going to create his own. You'd expect Robinho and Montolivo to do that and fine, they weren’t there. But you need to have a better plan than the one seen at the San Siro.

Now there are rumors of switching to a three-man defense. Really?

You can see the logic in that it frees up the wing backs to deliver crosses for Pazzini. But if you play three at the back you need strength in depth at center half, something that the likes of Zapata, Acerbi, Philippe Mexes and Daniele Bonera do not provide.

Malaga down, but far from out
Talk about overcoming the odds.

It looked as if the bottom had fallen out of Malaga this summer. The Qatari owners had shown themselves to be cut from a rather different cloth than the folks who look after PSG. A rather less impressive cloth, as it turns out, given that after an initial spending spree, the money dried up. (And as a result of unpaid debts, UEFA decided to withhold prize money "until the balances are settled," something that could take a rather long time.)

Going into the last 48 hours of the transfer window, Santi Cazorla and Jose Rondon -- Malaga's best player and its leading goal scorer last season -- were sold. Ruud Van Nistelrooy retired, Enzo Maresca and Joris Mathijsen left as free agents. And, on top of everything else, it was revealed that Julio Baptista would be out until Christmas.

The last-ditch signings, all of them free -- Oguchi Onyewu, Roque Santa Cruz, Javier Saviola and Manuel Iturra -- looked liked bodies drafted in to make up the numbers. Maybe that’s just what they are (time will tell as they’ve played 135 combined minutes thus far) but in the meantime, the rest of the squad has responded with pride and quality.



GettyImages / Oliver Hardt/Getty Images
Hannover's Szabolcs Huszti was right to celebrate his game-winning goal against his club's biggest rival, though he was also right to feel aggrieved at the speedy double booking he received for his exploits.


Malaga is second in La Liga, two points behind Barcelona. It's going to be a long, hard slog, starting with Zenit in the Champions League on Tuesday, but the performance Manuel Pellegrini was able to coax out of his squad has been nothing short of sensational. And it rather makes you wonder whether maybe he wasn't forgotten a bit too quickly after being bounced from the Bernabeu.

The problem with overzealous referees
Bookings for excessive celebrations are part and parcel of the game now. Fine. You rather accept that. But what happened to Hannover's Szabolcs Huszti on Saturday is way over the top. He scored the opener against Werder Bremen and then set up Leon Andreasen who made it 2-0. But then Thomas Schaaf's men stormed back to make it 2-2, only for Huszti to score the winner in the third minute of injury time with a dramatic overhead kick.

An assist and two goals -- one of them a gorgeous last-gasp winner -- in a derby match entitles you to some level of festivity, yes?

In this case, it was a bit too much for referee Deniz Aytekin, who decided to book Huszti twice: once for removing his shirt in celebration and once for jumping into the crowd to celebrate with his fans. So he gets a red card and a ban.

You hear a lot about referees and common sense. The rule about excessive celebration exists to prevent time-wasting and to avoid provoking opponents. Huszti did neither. If you really want to be a pedantic, book him once. But a double yellow? When the game is over? For celebrating with the folks who pay his wages?

Sometimes beleaguered match officials don't help themselves.

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