Do Premier League clubs play too soft against Manchester United? That’s the theory Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini explained before today’s Derby at Old Trafford.
Heading into the match United hold a 15-point lead over their second place neighbors. It’s a difference that Mancini believes is not so much due to his team’s inconsistency and suspect defending but rather the fact that too many other clubs roll over when playing United.
The Italian’s decision to condemn the rest of the Premier League is an interesting play, to say the least. When asked for his thoughts on Sunderland’s performance against United in their last match before today’s Derby, Mancini answered, “[n]o one plays well against United because they only play with fear.”
Mancini went on to explain how it comes down to a team’s mentality when playing United. “United are strong now because of their importance as a team, their importance as a club. Every team that plays against United plays very soft because they think the game is difficult, that they can’t beat them. It is not true.
“If they play strong against United, they can beat them like they can beat us. This is normal, this is football, because United have been a strong team for a long time. For the other teams they play against it is difficult. I’m not saying they don’t play 100% but their mentality is poor in that game. They think they can do nothing but … I don’t think that is true. If you play with a good mentality, in football you can beat every team.”
Teams around the league are unlikely to take kindly to Mancini’s backhanded compliment that they are good enough to beat United if they can only manage to grow mentally tougher. While Mancini has yet to produce evidence of his theory it seems justified that clubs may be intimidated by United’s success. Facing a club that has won 19 league titles, 11 FA Cups, four league cups, 19 Community Shields and three European Cups/Champions League titles can be a bit intimidating. Factor in Sir Alex Ferguson’s 26 plus years of experience at the club and Old Trafford’s 75,765 fans and it only ramps up the nerves.
But more than intimidation, most players and managers poised to face Manchester United routinely speak about their excitement in doing so. Slaying Goliath is something every David looks forward to. Which raises another point concerning Mancini’s belief that teams facing United have an inferiority complex – perhaps if those clubs had City’s resources they’d be less intimidated.
Figures from the 2011-12 season show that City spent $306/£200m on wages whereas six Premier League clubs (West Brom, Norwich, Southampton, Wigan, Reading and Swansea) spent less $77/£50m on their wage bill and an additional nine clubs (Tottenham, Aston Villa, QPR, Sunderland, Newcastle, Everton, Stoke, Fulham, West Ham) doled out less than $153/£100m in salaries. When 15 of the 20 Premier League clubs can only afford to spend half the amount on wages that City can spend, those club’s players tend to be of slightly less talent and possess confidence of slightly less swagger.
The world will see whether Mancini has instilled his side with enough confidence today when the Manchester Derby kicks off at 3:00pm EST on ESPN. If the Citizens pull off the win they will join Tottenham, Everton and Norwich as the only Premier League clubs to defeat United this season.