By Jonathan Birchall
Roberto Mancini will be left fighting for his job if Manchester City lose to Leeds in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Mancini’s side fell 12 points behind city rivals Manchester United in the race for the title this weekend, with a humiliating 3-1 defeat away to Southampton on Saturday evening followed by Sir Alex Ferguson’s side dispatching Everton with a 2-0 win at Old Trafford.
City are therefore preparing to host Neil Warnock’s men knowing that defeat would effectively end their hopes of silverware this term, after crashing out of the Champions League group stage and the Capital One Cup towards the end of last year.
Mancini signed a new five-year deal at the Etihad Stadium thought to be worth in the region of £37 million in July, but the club’s disastrous title defence, coupled with a dire Champions League showing for the second consecutive year, has left the City hierarchy considering his position.
Tensions between Mancini and his players have also arisen in recent weeks, with members of the senior squad angry over the Italian’s public criticism of individual performances.
Mancini singled out Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero for delivering “disappointing” performances following City’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool on February 3, and said Joe Hart had “not been good enough” after making a crucial error in allowing Rickie Lambert’s goal – Southampton’s second – to trickle through his legs at St. Mary’s.
Some members of the City first team have also been left confused by Mancini’s tactical direction in recent weeks, with the champions relying on a makeshift defensive line-up over the past fortnight after skipper Vincent Kompany injured his calf at Stoke.
Club officials have been monitoring Mancini’s performance since the English champions severely underwhelmed in Europe during the autumn, with director of football Txiki Begiristain making clear to the 48-year-old that City’s performances needed to improve in November.
Mancini travelled to former club Sampdoria on Sunday to watch the Genoan outfit defeat Roma 4-2 at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, with the capital outfit having sacked Zdenek Zeman last week before appointing Aurelio Andreazzoli in temporary charge until the end of the season.
However, the City boss was quick to quash speculation linking him to Roma, insisting that he had only travelled to watch the match as a fan.