Roberto Mancini congratulates Sergio Aguero during Manchester City's win over Leeds United.
After a disastrous 3-1 defeat at the hands of Premier League minnows Southampton last weekend, Manchester City found themselves 12 points behind bitter rivals Manchester United at the summit of the domestic table.
This is certainly not a position that the title-holders expected to find themselves in at this point, especially considering how they did not lose a league match until the 16th fixture of the season, which was a hotly contested Manchester derby.
Still, even though the Baby Blues have only lost two further league games since then, they've now gone three straight league games without winning, with the Southampton loss following draws against Liverpool and Queens Park Rangers.
Sunday afternoon, they looked to begin a turnaround with an FA Cup fifth-round win over Leeds United. But with a title defense looking bleak and the Champions League campaign an embarrassment in itself, Roberto Mancini has frequently come under fire for a host of reasons.
After all, with such a talent-rich squad, how are City not dominating everything? Things are not over by any means, though, and Mancini will certainly be around to lead his men in the chase. Taking into account Sunday's result and observations of recent play, here is why the Italian will be sticking around.
All is well with Roberto Mancini…for now.
Yes, it's only one win, and it came at home against a Championship side. But still, to win 4-0 in any match, especially a cup tie, is always something that can start a positive run of form.
The loss to Southampton last week was the club's first loss of 2013, and the pair of goals they allowed to Liverpool in the match prior were the first two shots to beat Joe Hart in the calendar year.
Before then, Mancini's men had gone six consecutive matches, including a pair of FA Cup ties, without conceding. The only blot was the surprising draw to QPR at Loftus Road.
Clearly, City had been feeling it before running into a fairly in-form Liverpool side. The Southampton result was a smack in the face, and Mancini guided his side to a quick bounce-back against Leeds.
City were in full flow against Leeds.
The biggest takeaway from the Leeds victory is how completely dominant City were. Two goals inside the opening 20 minutes certainly would indicate that, as would the fact that the visitors managed just one shot on target—from a set piece, no less.
David Silva was hugely influential in the heart of the midfield, the defense corralled Leeds' attackers well and Sergio Aguero tore his opposition to shreds. Maybe this was all due to lower-quality competition, but that should not take away from an excellent performance.
After the match, Mancini told City's official site that he thought this match would be the starting point to turning the Premier League table upside-down:
“I hope this season will be like this from now until the end, if Sergio and our strikers continue to play well and score goals, I don’ t think the league is over.
“In Italy we say that this game is a soup, a starter – I hope it can help us to start to win in the Premier League.”
There's still a dozen games left in the league campaign, and last season's run-in saw City overturn an eight-point deficit with just six games to go. And the Leeds result should certainly give them plenty of confidence going into the stretch run.
James Milner (R) correctly got a starting nod over Samir Nasri.
In earlier matches, especially in the Champions League, Mancini took a lot of flak for the way he set up his teams. He even got it from his own players, as Micah Richards hit out at his gaffer after a loss to Ajax.
In the loss to Southampton, players like Gael Clichy and fill-in central defender Javi Garcia were consistently exposed. Against Leeds, Clichy was dropped in favor of Aleks Kolarov, and Garcia returned to midfield as Matija Nastastic and Kolo Toure were the defensive duo behind him.
Additionally, the often-ineffective Samir Nasri returned to the bench, allowing former Leeds player James Milner to slot in on the right side of midfield. Needless to say, these moves worked wonders.
While Kolarov was muted offensively, he wasn't tested defensively at all. Garcia was a huge key, helping to break things up in midfield, as did the tireless Milner. The England international also performed well offensively, driving forward and executing well in link-up play.
When taking out backup shot-stopper Costel Pantilimon, who was barely tested Sunday, this is as close to the best 11 Mancini can trot out there. A couple of key figures coming back soon could help, though.
Vincent Kompany is closing in on a return.
Injuries often take a toll on contending clubs, and Mancini's squad have not been able to evade losing players for long stretches this season. In fact, key absences may have played a part in the disaster show put on against Southampton.
But as the final third of the Premier League season gets into full gear, City look to be reloading as players return to full fitness.
Captain Vincent Kompany has missed the last several matches with niggling thigh issues, but Mancini stated that the Belgian will be back for next week's huge match against Chelsea. Additionally, midfielder Gareth Barry should be good to go as well after missing out on Sunday's squad.
Micah Richards may have lost his spot in the City squad to Pablo Zabaleta, but can still play a huge role in the title run-in, and is closing in on being ready to help his squad within a couple of weeks (via Daily Mail).
Having a full, healthy squad at his disposal will be key for Mancini as the season draws to a close.
Manchester City take on Chelsea next weekend.
As it usually does, the last dozen games City face will throw up a series of monumental tasks in their road to recover a dozen points (with the necessary help from Manchester United) plus goal difference.
The slate of games begins next weekend with a huge matchup against Chelsea at home. Fans will be hoping for better than the humdrum scoreless draw the two sides played out in November, and City will be hoping for a much better result.
After that, City get a relatively easy set of opponents that will visit the Etihad over the rest of the season: Wigan, Newcastle, West Brom, West Ham and Norwich in the last game of the campaign. But the road slate is massively difficult.
Aston Villa's status as relegation fodder masks the fact that they knocked off the Blues in the League Cup at the Etihad. Then comes an always-tricky venture to Goodison Park to take on European place contenders Everton, followed by the small matter of the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on April 8.
After this come visits to White Hart Lane to take on the ever-dangerous Tottenham and to Wales to face Michu and Swansea, both opponents City beat by just a goal apiece at home. A trip to Reading before the Norwich match could definitely be a bogey match waiting to happen.
Plus, they've still got the FA Cup to deal with, having made it to the quarterfinals with the win against Leeds. Having been pitted against Championship side Barnsley, City could easily see themselves to the semis. Rotating players to keep them healthy for league clashes becomes key here.
Mancini's experience with last year's run-in will be crucial in guiding his side through these next three months. There's nobody the club should trust more at this point.