London: Manchester City have one realistic chance left for a title and should they fail in the FA Cup at the weekend against second-tier Leeds United, manager Roberto Mancini will find himself under even more scrutiny. Already criticised for his blaming of players and refusal to support those who have had a bad game, the Italian knows that with their Premier League chances all but gone, Sunday's clash with Leeds is vital to his survival.
A lack of movement in the transfer market by City pre-season and in January have exposed Mancini's league title-holders this term, highlighted by another failed Champions League campaign. A 12-point gap to make up on leaders Manchester United after a 3-1 defeat at lowly Southampton on Saturday led Mancini to blast his team's poor performance and players performing "without strength and personality".
"When you play football and you are a top player, you should take your responsibility, always," Mancini was quoted as saying in The Telegraph newspaper. "It's not always the fault of the manager. The players should take responsibility."
Key performers last season, goalkeeper Joe Hart and midfielder Gareth Barry, both made horrendous errors at the weekend to gift the hosts their second and third goals. Even their imposing midfield engine Yaya Toure, back from the African Nations Cup, was well below his best, while fellow midfielder Javi Garcia had to play at centre back against Southampton, such is City's lack of strength in depth.
Few City fans would argue with their manager's assessment that Saturday's abysmal loss was the side's "worst game in two or three years maybe."
Mancini made it clear to the club's owners after their title success last season that a failure to boost the squad would likely result in a barren 2012-13 and his predictions seem to be coming true. Mancini is working overtime to meet the demands of Abu Dhabi owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who bought City in 2008 and has turned them into the world's richest club.
The Italian has criticised the recent fair play rules that will constrain the spending of top-flight clubs and could result in points being docked if they fail to comply with limits on financial losses and curbs on increases in player wages. While this and a lack of transfers have been hurdles for Mancini to overcome, his management has at times been suspect this season.
City's fans' patience could again be tested against Leeds, with reports that Mancini is set to ring the changes for the Cup clash at the Etihad Stadium as a reaction to Saturday's defeat. "I only want players who are ready for the fight in the last 12 games," Mancini told the Manchester Evening News.