I've taken a decidedly cautious approach with my opinions and analyses in these first three months on the job. But it's now time to say publicly what I've said privately for months. Manchester City is not going to win the English Premier League this season.
Roberto Mancini turned 47 Sunday and had to see both the performance and result as an assault on his team's title credentials. For me, Liverpool's 1-1 draw with the league leader Sunday sealed it. Mancini's team oozes talent but lacks depth and (capital C) Champions.
I wouldn't dare predict the champions at this point, but feel safe enough to say it won't be City. As a matter of fact, I will doubt Manchester City's title credentials until that breezy day in May when Vincent Kompany lifts that EPL trophy. I'll feast on humble pie when it happens.
The league campaign runs in phases and City's record-breaking start to the season is impressive. Unbeaten in 13 games, the Sky Blues lead the league in goals (43) and boast the stingiest defense (12 conceded). All this has produced a mere 5-point lead at the top of the standings and there's nowhere to go but down for Mancini's crew. How will the group respond when faced with the real adversity of injuries, suspensions, infighting and other nonsense that happens to every team in every sport in every season?
City is involved in four competitions — the EPL, UEFA Champions League, Carling Cup and FA Cup, but lack the depth of quality to compete on all fronts. I see a squad that is not much improved from last season's third-placed (thanks to Arsenal's epic collapse and goal difference) group.
Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy are both good players, but neither played a role on anything close to a title-winning team at Arsenal (in recent years). Sergio Aguero's addition strengthens the attack, but he replaces the rebelling and AWOL Carlos Tevez. He may never match his countryman's 20-plus goal output of the last two seasons. City remains a powerhouse going forward, but three strikers (Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko) is not enough to carry a team competiting for so many honors.
Nasri, Aguero, Balotelli and the in-form David Silva only created a handful of chances against a Liverpool defense which, although improving, is hardly the sturdiest in the league. In fact, Sunday was the first league game in which City failed to score more than once. There will be more of this to come as opposing managers learn to counter Mancini's newly-found swashbuckling style of play.
In defense, the leaders are sturdy and well drilled but short of numbers in the center. Kompany, no champion himself, has been superb at times this season but the quality drops after him. Liverpool's own-goal hero Joleon Lescott was an Everton player 26 months ago. The 29-year-old has not improved under Mancini to the point where he can be called a "top" player. He would be a lock for England if he was. Neither is Kolo Toure, another Arsenal castoff, in that category.
City has now alarmingly kept just one clean sheet (shutout) in its last 10 games. Title-winning teams rarely boast such a defensive record. If Kompany breaks down, Mancini's got a real problem because of the dropoff in quality.
Mancini is also over-reliant the midfield duo of Yaya Toure and longtime Aston Villa man Gareth Barry. He's even taken to using wide midfielder James Milner in that area. If Toure or Barry miss significant time, City's prospects start to dim.
I'm sorry to rain on the birthday boy's party, but Liverpool started it. The parity on display Sunday allude to one of two things. Either Manchester City is closer to Liverpool's level than we think or the Reds are closer to the level of Mancini's bunch than most would have us believe.
I tend to think it is the former. The wildly experienced Dirk Kuyt wasn't even blown away by Liverpool's performance.
"There are positives to take — the way we played, the way we were on top of them and we created enough chances to beat them," he said after the game. "I don't know if it was one of our best performances of the season so far. It's just one game and we need to look at other games as well."
David Beckham's candid assesment from Indonesia provides me the cover to come out with it.
"I don't think Manchester City have a chance," the 2011 MLS Cup winner said. "This season they have got a good team and have some good players, but Manchester United have more experience and know how to win a championship."
So there it is. Happy birthday, Roberto Mancini. What are you going to do after the party, when your luck starts to run dry?