City boss Chris Hughton may yet find himself with an unusual tactical headache at Carrow Road tomorrow as opposite number Roberto Mancini threatens to ‘do a Barcelona’ and go into battle without a single recognised striker.
The reigning Premier League champions arrive in Norfolk tomorrow now seven points adrift of neighbours Manchester United after City slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Sunderland on Boxing Day – just as arch rivals United were serving up a complete festive treat at Old Trafford with that dramatic, 4-3 home win over Newcastle United.
Mancini has already confirmed that ‘Super Mario’ Balotelli will not be travelling due to illness. But with Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, and Edin Dzeko between them delivering just three goals in City’s last eight outings, so a fed-up Mancini is threatening to make sweeping changes against the Canaries this weekend.
“We still have a big problem that we don’t score, and we need to change,” Mancini told the Manchester Evening News in the run-up to Norwich’s third game of the festive week.
“Maybe we need to play without a striker, or with just one striker. We need to do something. If we want to win this championship we need to score like we did last year,” added the Italian.
Head into battle without a recognised front-man and that will, in turn, get Sebastien Bassong and Co thinking – who and where, exactly, do they pick up players?
Equally it will ensure another big shift will be demanded of Bradley Johnson and Alexander Tettey in the Canary engine room if Mancini does indeed decide to swamp his midfield with attacking runners.
It promises to be an intriguing tactical clash as Norwich look to end their own, recent losing sequence following the away defeat at West Bromwich Albion last weekend followed by the narrow, home defeat to Chelsea on Boxing Day.
And the Canaries, too, have their own striking problems with skipper Grant Holt being only notable by his absence in the trip to The Hawthorns last weekend. Hamstring recovered – in theory – for the Chelsea game, the January transfer window looks to be opening at just the right time as Hughton looks to add to fresh firepower to his squad.
But as Mancini will attest, buying in the ‘big names’ doesn’t guarantee you success; his multi-million array of striking talent are underwhelming right now – leaving United to romp away into the distance at the half-way mark of the season.
“We have top strikers, but maybe we are too soft when we get a chance because we think we have good players and maybe we feel we will score the next chance that comes along,” added the champions Italian manager. “When you have a chance to score you need to score.”
Bad-boy Balotelli will not be troubling the home defence, it appears.
“Mario was ill – for nine days he has been ill. I don’t think he will be fit for Norwich – he has trained only one time, three days ago,” said Mancini.
Hughton reported no fresh injury concerns after the Chelsea game and could go into battle tomorrow unchanged. But with an away trip to West Ham United next up on New Year’s Day, so he could will be tempted to try and freshen things up – be it with or without the cheque-book with rumours abounding that a Jacob Mulenga is Norfolk-bound this January.
The six-foot, 28-year-old Zambian striker is currently the leading goal-scorer in the Dutch Eredivisie with FC Utrecht with seven goals from 16 appearances this season. He would fit the bill in the sense that City chief executive David McNally suggested at the club’s autumn AGM that the Canaries might have to look to Europe for their next raft of signings.
Neither Tettey nor Javier Garrido have let anyone down thus far this season; the Football League cupboard may well be all but bare when it comes to securing players of the next level up quality-wise.
Mulenga himself appeared ready to make the switch when he spoke to the BBC World Service earlier this month.
“For most Zambians, their ambition is to play in England because obviously it’s the best league in the world,” he said.
“Hopefully as soon as everything is sorted with my agents and everyone, I’ll be able to move.”