City need Mangala to prove his worth
Published 14/04/2016 | 02:30
The excitement around Manchester City's progress to the Champions League semi-finals had still to subside yesterday as players, management, officials and supporters looked ahead to tomorrow's draw in Nyon.
For a team who had hitherto been labouring in this strange limbo period between Manuel Pellegrini leaving and Pep Guardiola arriving as manager, a place in the last four of Europe's premier club competition serves both as a considerable fillip and a riposte to those questioning the squad's motivation.
City are determined that the transition will be as smooth as possible and a successful end to the season would aid that process after a few weeks when the wheels seemed in danger of falling off. But if Guardiola is to inherit Champions League winners come June then, for all the brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne, much is likely to depend on whether Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi can ensure an encouraging showing against Paris Saint-Germain was not a flash in the pan.
It seems odd to question the credentials of a central-defensive pairing that cost City a combined total of £74million and spent three years playing together at Porto. Yet it speaks volumes for how far short of expectations Mangala and Otamendi have fallen at City that Laurent Blanc spoke for many when the PSG coach registered genuine surprise at the duo's solidity during his team's 1-0 quarter-final, second-leg defeat.
Both are erratic and prone to lapses of concentration. Otamendi is a hot-head who goes to ground too easily and gets carried away, a case in point coming in the 2-2 first-leg draw in Paris when he charged forward, lost the ball and watched PSG steal possession and tee up Zlatan Ibrahimovic for a one-on-one. Mangala's positioning and decision-making often leave much to be desired. Even on Tuesday, one awful intended clearance almost let PSG in, only for the Frenchman's blushes to be spared by the quick thinking of his compatriot, Gael Clichy, but for the most part there was a calmness about the pair's defending.
Mangala took understandable delight in hitting back at Chris Sutton on Twitter after the former Blackburn and Chelsea striker's criticism in the run-up to the game. "You cannot give somebody a brain and that's Mangala's problem," Sutton had said. "His decision-making is just appalling."
City would consider that too harsh an assessment but it was only a few weeks ago that senior officials at the club were privately admitting the player - the world's most expensive defender at £42m - had disappointed amid expectations that he would be one of those jettisoned by Guardiola.
Otamendi is more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt after arriving from Valencia for £32m only last summer but, whether they come or go, City are likely to be highly dependent on both in the coming weeks. Pellegrini is hopeful captain Vincent Kompany will return against Chelsea on Saturday, but after so many setbacks owing to calf problems, can his fitness be relied on?
For now, though, City are basking in the afterglow of their most memorable European night.