Has the recent Balotelli/Mancini squabble caused any lasting damage, or is it just another chapter in the soap opera? Who leaves first, or do they both leave in the summer?
It's a tough call, but I'm inclined to say that nothing has changed. While we haven't seen the two in an altercation like this before, Mancini still went out a day or two later and played it down, talking about how happy he is with Balotelli and the he will continue to give him chances to prove himself. I do believe that Mancini feels that he can get the best out of Balotelli, and I applaud him for this determination, but I'm not sure how much longer this can continue to go on. There are rumors that the comments made by Mancini were done in an attempt to increase his potential transfer value, otherwise City would seem desperate to get rid of him and thus receive a lower fee if they were to sell him. I'm not sure that this is the case, but personally, I'm giving Mario til the end of the season to prove himself. After that, some serious re-evaluations have to be done. But overall, I don't think that either of their fates are left in the hands of the other.
Are City looking to be active in the transfer market, or are they settled?
I think bar a potential loan signing (a la David Pizzaro last season), City are settled. There have been surprisingly fewer transfer rumors involving City in this window than in windows past, which is a bit strange given the media's love of City and the fact that performances so far this season have been generally sub-par for their standards of late. There are a number of players who haven't performed as well as they should be (Arsenal fans should rejoice in seeing Nasri in that list), but poor form doesn't necessarily mean that new faces have to come in. City have lacked width in certain matches this season, which is a spot in which Adam Johnson would normally have been thrust into a match, however, thus far, Mancini has been cautious in his use of Scott Sinclair, suggesting that he doesn't feel the winger is ready yet. So, I could see maybe a loan signing, if possible, to cover there or in central midfield since Yaya Toure is at the African Cup of Nations and Jack Rodwell has been struggling to stay off the injury list all season.
With FFP stressing clubs' youth infrastructure, how's City's academy looking these days? Anyone we should know about?
This is one area that I feel that City are doing particularly well in. Of course with City the headlines are grabbed by the big transfers and the latest Balotelli gossip, but the club has very quietly brought in a number of bright, young talents to the academy the way the more established powers of United, Arsenal, etc have been doing for a while. Coupled with this is City's investment in a new, quite gigantic youth training facility which should be completed in a few years and the club hopes will help churn out world class talent. Some of the youngsters to watch: Denis Suarez (19, attacking midfielder), Karim Rekik (18, defender), Abdul Razak (20, central midfielder), Marcos Lopes (17, attacking midfielder), John Guidetti (20, striker). There are a few younger players as well, but these are the ones who will likely be appearing more and more on TV screens in the near future. They have all played in matches with the first team already and will hopefully live up to their potential for us.
Which is Man City's best strike partnership, given all the strikers you have?
I think it's definitely Aguero/Tevez. Individually I feel they are our two best but as a pairing their chemistry is uniquely spectacular. Edin Dzeko often is left up top a bit isolated since he serves as more of a target man, and too often has misplaced passes or first touches (we sometimes joke about his 'clown feet' at Bitter and Blue). Balotelli is more of a free spirit and though he does a good bit of tracking back and dropping deeper to collect passes, he seems to often lack the final bit of skill or thought in an attacking play, and of course, we all know of his poor disciplinary record on the field. Last year he had some great performances with Aguero but it has been lacking this season. Tevez does just about everything right; dropping deep, harrying defenders, ability to play quick one touch passes with Silva and co., and of course, good shooting ability. Aguero does pretty much everything Tevez does except he is a bit faster as well. And the pair also mesh best with our usual attacking midfielders, capable of playing the tiki-taka style that is a joy to watch when it comes off right.
Do you think Mancini's tactics made him the right choice at the time? And who do you think should become the next City manager or who would you want as manager?
I think Mancini's tactics when he was first hired were not only the right choice but necessary at the time. This project that has been ongoing at City was never meant to be a brief spell and it isn't something as easy as manager mode in FIFA, despite what some people may say. City have gone from 10th to 5th to 3rd to 1st, and it has not been easy. Yes, the money has obviously been a major factor but the club admittedly did not have a winning mentality beforehand and the road to gaining that confidence and mental strength has to start at the manager and permeate on downwards from there. Mancini began at City with very defensive tactics but even the biggest of City's detractors can say that 'negative' tactics haven't been a part of City's match strategy in a while. They do still crop up every once in a while, but on a far less frequency than before. What I would like to see him incorporate more into our tactics these days is the use of a winger to provide more width to our often narrow attack.
If and when Mancini leaves, I have a few personal preferences to be the next City manager, but obviously much depends on their availability as well. If it was this summer, for example, then Mourinho and Guardiola are certainly worth looking at, if Mancini doesn't deliver this season. Both managers track records speak for themselves, and they both have specifically won the Champions League which is our bogey competition for now. I just hope we don't have a messy situation of managers like Liverpool have had recently (and that United will have once Fergie retires!).
What kind of lineup (and with whom) will we see from Man City? What happened to Javi Garcia? Will he start?
It can be tough at times to predict City's lineup but with so many players missing due to injuries, suspensions, and international commitments. This one should be pretty straightforward. We're probably looking at a starting XI of Hart, Clichy, Kompany, Nastasic, Zabaleta, Barry, Garcia, Milner, Silva, Tevez, Dzeko. (Don't worry, Mario will be on the bench). The midfield trio of Milner, Barry, and Garcia will attempt to create a solid rock in the midfield to stop guys like Cazorla running through freely (the way Dortmund tore us apart), and Barry and Milner in particular will look to do most of the dirty work as well as recycle possession back up to the attackers. Tevez will likely drop deep often, leaving Dzeko to play up top and use his strength and hold-up play to help set up attacks.
Finally, what do you see City's tactical keys as being on Sunday to beat Arsenal? Will City approach the match differently at the Emirates than they did at the Etihad?
I think this game will definitely be won in the midfield, which becomes an even more important battleground without Toure. Arsenal's wingers are quite fast and if I'm not mistaken are one of the key points in their attack, so Zabaleta and Clichy should have their hands full as well. I am generally confident in our defense and particularly Kompany and Nastasic, so it's left to the rest of the squad to do their jobs. In attack, I think a more direct approach will be needed for this match, we likely won't have the luxury of the lion's share of possession and space to try to fashion out chances, and since Dzeko should be starting, I'd like to see City employ more crossing than usual and not just try one plan of attack.
As we have seen before, it can be tough to predict what Mancini will actually do on match day and so regardless of the tactics he ends up using, I just hope the execution is there. In this fixture last season with our title hopes on the line, many pundits and fans believed City were 'negative' in their approach, but I don't think that was completely the case. I think we were just downright awful on that day and it wouldn't have mattered if City were trying to score ten goals or squeak out a draw. We have seen this in City's Champions League matches as well this season. In the end I do hope City come out looking to get the three points especially with the gap from United standing at 7. But I still wouldn't be surprised if there was a slightly more defensive tone to the side, given the quality Arsenal can produce when they are on their game.
Thanks so much again to sonics097 for taking the time to answer all our questions!