Rabu, 31 Oktober 2012

Scott Sinclair willing to fight for starting berth at Manchester City

Scott Sinclair: Prepared to be patient in his pursuit of a regular starting role

The summer signing from Swansea City is, however, prepared to be patient and battle his way into Roberto Mancini's plans.

Sinclair linked up with the Blues in order to challenge for top honours and has no regrets regarding his decision.

He is confident he can earn a regular role and is pleased with the progress he has made to this point.

"I don't know how often I'll play because competition for places is intense," said Sinclair.

"I made my debut against Stoke and then played against Arsenal and Aston Villa. All I can do now is concentrate on the next game and give 100 per cent.

"I'm just looking forward to playing in any games. All I can do is try to make an impact when the opportunity arises."

He added: "I'll aim to improve off all the world-class players here. Everyone will be rotated, so it's down to the manager's choice.

"I'll just work hard and try and get the nod again."

Selasa, 30 Oktober 2012

Micah Richards could be out for four months after requiring knee surgery

Micah Richards: Manchester City defender is facing lengthy lay-off

The 24-year-old picked up the injury towards the end of City's narrow 1-0 victory, pulling up and holding onto his knee without any other players close by.

He was stretchered from the field while wearing an oxygen mask and the England international ended up having an operation to mend a torn knee cartilage.

The unfortunate Richards had only returned to action at the start of October, after picking up a heel injury while on duty for Team GB at the London Olympics.

Richards said: "The positive thing is that the injury has been repaired so the knee will be as good as new.

"I have a brace on it and I am using crutches. I can't do anything at all for the next four to six weeks and I am probably looking at 12-16 weeks before I am back in action.

"I knew straight away that it was quite a bad injury. The knee locked and I couldn't straighten it.

"I suppose it could have been even worse and not repairable, so I am being positi ve. Injuries are part and parcel of the job but, with this coming on top of the other one, I do feel a little hard done to!

"I will be working as hard as I can to get back as quickly as I can and I thank all the fans who have sent their best wishes."

Injury worries for City

The loss of Richards leaves Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini short of options on the right-hand side of his defence in the short term.

Pablo Zabaleta and Maicon are already sidelined with hamstring and foot problems respectively, although both are due to return soon.

Kolo Toure replaced Richards on Saturday, but the Ivory Coast international is not registered in City's Champions League squad.

Richards added: "I felt I was doing OK. We beat Sunderland, West Brom and Swansea, and kept two clean sheets in those three games, so things were going well in the Premier League.

"I am sure the lads will continue that run of form and I will look forward to getti ng stuck into the title defence as soon as possible when I return.

"Everyone has their opinion about how we have started but the league table looks pretty good."

Micah Richards could be out for eight weeks after requiring knee surgery

Micah Richards: Manchester City defender is facing lengthy lay-off

The 24-year-old picked up the injury towards the end of City's narrow 1-0 victory, pulling up and holding onto his knee without any other players close by.

He was stretchered from the field while wearing an oxygen mask and there was some concern that he might have damaged his knee ligaments, which could have ruled him out for the rest of the season.

However, the England international ended up having an operation to mend a torn knee cartilage and City say he will be out for up to two months.

The unfortunate Richards had only returned to action at the start of October, after picking up a heel injury while on duty for Team GB at the London Olympics.

And he was criticised by boss Roberto Mancini last week because he questioned City's tactics during their 3-1 Champions League loss at Ajax.

City are facing something of an injury crisis this weekend because, although he should be back in training soon, David Silva is unlikely to be fit for Saturday's trip to West Ham.

Javi Garcia, Maicon and Jack Rodwell are also doubtful but Pablo Zabaleta may be fit and James Milner will return after serving a one-game suspension.

Senin, 29 Oktober 2012

Balotelli on Ballon shortlist

Balotelli is joined by Manchester City teammates Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure along with Manchester United duo Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

There is no place for his City teammates Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart or David SIlva.

Didier Drogba is the only Chelsea player from their Champions League-winning side to make the list.

There are 11 players in total from Real Madrid and Barcelona, with Ronaldo and Lionel Messi - who has won the award in the last two seasons - expected to battle it out for the gong.

Meanwhile, Roberto Di Matteo, Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini are among a shortlist of 10 in the frame for the coach of the year award.

Vicente del Bosque, Pep Guardiola, Jupp Heynckes, Jurgen Klopp, Joachim Low, Jose Mourinho and Cesare Prandelli have also been credited for their good work over the past 12 months.

The full shortlist:

Sergio Agero (Argentina & Manchester City)

Mario Balotelli (Ital y & Manchester City)

Karim Benzema (France & Real Madrid)

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy & Juventus)

Sergio Busquets (Spain & Barcelona)

Iker Casillas (Spain & Real Madrid)

Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast, Chelsea & Shanghai Shenhua)

Radamel Falcao (Colombia & Atltico Madrid)

Zlatan Ibrahimovi (Sweden, AC Milan & Paris St Germain)

Andrs Iniesta (Spain & Barcelona)

Lionel Messi (Argentina & Barcelona)

Manuel Neuer (Germany & Bayern Munich)

Neymar (Brazil & Santos)

Mesut zil (Germany & Real Madrid)

Gerard Piqu (Spain & Barcelona)

Andrea Pirlo (Italy & Juventus)

Sergio Ramos (Spain & Real Madrid)

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal & Real Madrid)

Wayne Rooney (England & Manchester United)

Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast & Manchester City)

Robin van Persie (Holland, Arsenal & Manchester United)

Xabi Alonso (Spain & Real Madrid)

Xavi Hernndez (Spain & Barcelona)< /p>

Abdul Razak returns to Manchester City from Charlton

Abdul Razak: Made two appearances for Charlton

The Ivory Coast midfielder made two appearances in the Championship during his month-long spell at The Valley.

Razak, who was an unused substitute in Charlton's weekend draw with Wolves, was due to return to City in the New Year but the decision was taken to end his loan spell early.

The midfielder featured in City's Capital One Cup defeat to Aston Villa this season and made his international debut against Russia in August.

Minggu, 28 Oktober 2012

Manchester City name Txiki Begiristain as new director of football

Txiki Begiristain: Named as director of football at Manchester City

Marwood had previously been responsible for signing players, but his transfer dealings had been criticised by manager Roberto Mancini over the past two summers.

Begiristain will report to City's chief executive Ferran Soriano - who worked with him at Barcelona.

Begiristain is a former Real Sociedad, Barcelona and Deportivo winger who won 22 caps for Spain.

He ended his playing career in the J-League at the Urawa Red Diamonds, before spending seven years at the Nou Camp as Director of Football.

"I am very pleased indeed to have been offered such an exciting opportunity," Begiristain told the club's official website.

"The progress and on-field achievements at Manchester City are plain for all to see and I am honoured to have been asked to contribute to its future success.

"I am very much looking forward to working with Brian Marwood, Roberto Mancini and Ferran Soriano in continuing to build a football team and philosophy which will serve Manchester City well in the near and long term future."

Jumat, 26 Oktober 2012

Man City v Swansea preview

Silva: Hasn't recovered from hamstring injury

Champions City are again without playmaker David Silva and a number of other players.

Silva continues to struggle with the hamstring injury which has kept him out for the past two games while defenders Pablo Zabaleta (hamstring) and Maicon (foot), and midfielders Javi Garcia (thigh) and Jack Rodwell (hamstring) are also missing.

Another midfielder, James Milner, also sits out through suspension after his sending-off at West Brom last weekend.

Swansea manager Michael Laudrup has no fresh injury concerns.

The Dane could opt to again start midfielder Michu in attack after the Spaniard claimed his sixth goal of the season when employed as a striker in the win over Wigan, with Danny Graham the alternative.

Pablo Hernandez and in-form Wayne Routledge look set to keep Nathan Dyer on the bench, while Kyle Bartley (thigh) and Neil Taylor (broken ankle) are the only long-term absentees.

Man City (from): Hart, Pantilimon, Wright, Richar ds, Kompany, Lescott, K Toure, Nastasic, Clichy, Kolarov, Nasri, Y Toure, Barry, Sinclair, Aguero, Balotelli, Dzeko, Tevez.

Swansea (from): Vorm, Flores, Tate, Williams, Britton, Michu, Graham, Hernandez, Dyer, Routledge, Monk, Shechter, Moore, De Guzman, Tiendalli, Rangel, Ki, Tremmel, Agustien, Gower, Richards, Davies.

RM: Top players must be flexible

Roberto Mancini: Thinks players should cope with system

Mancini has claimed if anyone cannot handle his tactics they are not good enough to play for City in the first place.

The City boss held his hands up for his failure in preparation ahead of Wednesday night's 3-1 Champions League defeat to Ajax in Amsterdam.

He still accepts responsibility for a result that leaves the Blues requiring a "miracle" to avoid tumbling out at the group stage for the second successive season.

However, what he will not acknowledge is any weakness in formation.

Having toyed with three at the back at various times during the current campaign, Mancini did again in midweek as he desperately sought a way back into the contest.

The move had catastrophic consequences, leaving substituted Joleon Lescott fuming, Gael Clichy appealing for guidance about exactly where he was supposed to be playing, City conceding a third goal and Micah Richards conducting a post-match interview where he confirmed his team-mates were il l at ease with the tactical switch.

Mancini claimed Richards' comments were "not important".

However, his assessment of the situation left little room for argument.

"Good players should be able to play in any system," said Mancini.

"If you are a top player, the system is not important. If you don't understand you are not a top player and you cannot play for a top team.

"Maybe Micah doesn't know this because it is his first game. He has been out for two and a half months and has worked less than the other players.

"Maybe the next time we play this system Micah can stay on the bench and we will play with another player.

"But what Micah said is not important. He answered one stupid question."

The general consensus is that Mancini was only tempted by the three-man defensive idea during the summer, as he sought a way to get the best from a title-winning team he still felt required improvement.

Mancini disputes this ve rsion of events.

Indeed, if the Italian is to be believed, he has used the system far more than anyone previously thought.

"In pre-season we only had 10 senior players," he said, ahead of Saturday evening's encounter with Swansea at the Etihad Stadium.

"But I wasn't changing anything. It is difficult to watch from the stand when we change the system but we have used this a lot of times during games last season, a minimum of 50 times.

"We were 2-1 down and we wanted to improve the situation.

"With this system we beat Chelsea 3-2 in the Community Shield. With this system we recovered from 3-0 down against United, got back to 3-2 and had a chance to draw with only 10 players.

"With this system we have changed the result every time."

Not this time though, as City's previously watertight defence continues to leak goals.

They have now conceded 22 goals in 13 games in all competitions, eight fewer than the time it took last te rm.

City have a single clean sheet to their name, compared to five at the same stage 12 months ago.

"The problem is that we are continuing to concede too many goals," said Mancini.

"In the Premier League you have a chance to recover because the season is long. In the Champions League no. If you have a chance to score or close the game out you should."

It would take a remarkable turn of events for City to change their European fortunes now.

Almost certainly, they will need to win their remaining three games and even then might require other results to fall for them.

Mancini remains confident in their abilities though, and refuses to believe they will not respond.

"You think we can go down after one defeat? I don't think so," he said.

"We are strong enough for this.

"Any team can lose a game. It is important we understand why and what mistakes we made.

"From this we can improve and maybe in the next game we won't make them again."

Manchester City's Angelo Gregucci confirms interest in Fiorentina forward Stevan Jovetic

Stevan Jovetic: Fiorentina forward is on Manchester City's radar

The Montenegro forward has been strongly linked with the Premier League champions for several months, with his Italian club continuing to insist that he is not for sale.

City's defensive coach Gregucci has now stated that they are keen to add the 22-year-old to their squad.

"Jovetic is on our transfer list, we cannot deny it," he told Violanews.com. "He is a great player, but I don't know if he will wear the Manchester City shirt or not.

"City's interest in him is real, we cannot hide it."

Kamis, 25 Oktober 2012

Laudrup wary of City backlash

Michael Laudrup: On guard

The Premier League champions saw their hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League suffer a major blow when they lost 3-1 at Ajax.

City had been keen to make their mark in Europe this season, but with those aspirations under threat, Laudrup knows there will be a response from Roberto Mancini and his side with their home fans behind them.

The Dane said: "This game is a game where the majority do not expect much from us and you have lots to gain and not so much to lose. But every game is important and we want the points.

"We are playing the champions of last season and it is always a difficult game, but I think it is maybe even more difficult now after what happened.

"The players and supporters will be disappointed they are last in their group and they will want to show the crowd on Saturday that it was just a mistake that they lost and we need to be even more prepared for that game.

"I don't know how many changes th ey will make but the XI that goes on the pitch will want to show the home crowd they are still in there fighting and they want to compete for the title again, so we have to be alert from the first minute."

Swansea travel to the north-west on the back of a morale-boosting victory over Wigan last weekend, which ended a winless run of five games.

The victory tees up Swansea for a difficult run of games; Saturday's meeting with City is followed by a Capital One Cup tie against Liverpool at Anfield and a home league clash with Chelsea.

And Laudrup says the chance to face the domestic and European champions, either side of a reunion with former Swans' boss Brendan Rodgers, means motivation will be no problem for his squad .

He said: "They are very difficult games but they are special games against the champions of England and the champions of Europe.

"When you play the champions it is always special, and as a manager you don't have to motivate th e players as they are always up for these games, and if you add in the cup game against Liverpool at Anfield we are going into a very exciting week."

Swansea have no new injury concerns ahead of Saturday's tea-time kick-off, although defenders Kyle Bartley (thigh) and Neil Taylor (broken ankle) are long-term absentees.

Rabu, 24 Oktober 2012

Mancini blames poor preparation

Mancini: Accepts he could have prepared better

City are now on the verge of being eliminated from the group stages after slumping to a 3-1 defeat at the Amsterdam Arena, with goals from Siem de Jong, Niklas Moisander and Christian Eriksen making Samir Nasri's opener obsolete.

"They played better than us, they played better football," Mancini told Sky Sports.

"It was probably my fault because I prepared badly for this game, I didn't prepare the players and I'm at fault for the defeat.

"When you prepare for a game sometimes it is a different to what you expect.

"We played a bad game. We had a few chances to score but the players didn't really play well."

The Blues have only one point for their troubles, and Mancini believes qualification will now be a bridge too far given the poor return on performances against Ajax, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid.

"It's very difficult. There's one team with seven points, one team with six and one with three," he added.

"It will be a miracle."

Micah Richards admitted his team-mates were not accustomed to switching between three and five at the back throughout the match.

"It's not something that we've worked on a lot, we're just used to a back four," the defender also told Sky Sports.

"But the manager likes it and if we want to do well with it then we'll have to work harder on it.

"It's a hard system and I think the players prefer a 4-4-2 but he's the manager and we'll do what he says.

"When we got drawn in this group we knew it was going to be a tough one

"We're disappointed today, we thought we would come here and get the three points but it wasn't to be.

"No disrespect to Ajax but we expected to come here and win, we'll look to the next game and see what we can do."

Kompany confident in Europe

Kompany: Remains confident

The Premier League champions have made an indifferent start in the competition having collected just one point from their opening games against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.

To retain hope of progressing from Group D, City must now make the most of back-to-back encounters against Dutch champions Ajax, starting on Wednesday night in the Amsterdam ArenA.

Kompany said: "We look at the competition thinking we have a big chance and are capable of winning every game. We go into the game with a very good positive attitude and we feel we have had a good start to the season.

"We want to win all the remaining games. All of the games will be very important but I don't think we are looking at any and thinking we can't win.

"We will always have a feeling we can go into a game to win it."

Despite making an unbeaten start to their Barclays Premier League defence and sitting in a healthy third spot after eight games, City have also not yet play ed with last season's swagger domestically.

Much like the team, the influential Kompany has found his own form under scrutiny.

The 26-year-old was at fault as Real Madrid snatched a last-gasp winner against them at the Bernabeu last month and his error preceded James Milner's sending-off in the weekend win over West Brom.

The Belgian has also been troubled by a calf injury in recent weeks but he still feels on top of his game and takes further encouragement from his team-mates.

Kompany said: "My fitness is great, I'm in top form and the international game showed it as well. I'm just looking forward to the many games that are coming.

"When it comes to character and spirit and strength to overturn situations - you can only achieve that collectively. There is no such thing as a one-man team."

Alarmingly, according to UEFA statistics, City gave up a combined 50 shots on their goal to Real and Dortmund in their opening two matches.

Kompany said: "The past is irrelevant, we will go into the game hoping to win as we always do.

"You can't bring up things that have gone wrong in the past, what we have to take with us is the things that have gone well.

"But it's a very tough group, we always knew that. There are no easy games and this is no different."

City will have to achieve their aims in Holland without playmaker David Silva, who remains out with a hamstring injury and has not travelled.

Defender Maicon and midfielders Jack Rodwell and Javi Garcia are also missing.

In a break from recent routine, City trained at the Amsterdam Arena on the eve of the match. Mancini has previously preferred to train in Manchester on the morning before travelling.

Senin, 22 Oktober 2012

Silva ready for City return

Silva: Looking to shake off a hamstring injury

The Spanish playmaker picked up a hamstring injury while away on World Cup qualifying duty with his country.

He was initially ruled out of a continental clash with Ajax by City boss Roberto Mancini, with it expected that he would require a period of rest before pushing for a recall.

Silva has, however, responded well to treatment and could come into contention for a trip to Amsterdam, along with summer signings Javi Garcia and Maicon.

"We're having a roll call today (Monday), with scans and everything. With David in particular, we don't know how long he will be out for," assistant manager Brian Kidd told the Manchester Evening News.

"I think they are looking at him thinking he might be in with a chance of playing on Wednesday against Ajax. With a couple of days for it to settle down, we will get a better picture.

"Javi Garcia and Maicon are there or thereabouts. They have done a little bit of training but haven't done everything yet - they are back in today and we are hoping the next couple of days will bring them on."

Silva will be hoping to return to action as soon as possible, as he had been showing signs of recapturing top form before picking up another unfortunate knock.

Kidd added: "Pre-season was stop-start for a lot of our boys, particularly David Silva, after the Euros.

"You like to get a good pre-season under your belt, and David, along with Gareth Barry, missed a lot of pre-season. Games bring players on."

Minggu, 21 Oktober 2012

Lescott needs City place back

Lescott: Wants to be a City regular

Lescott helped England move back to the top of Group H after earning a 1-1 mid-week draw with Poland in a World Cup qualifier in Warsaw.

He has become established as a regular member of Roy Hodgson's starting line-up, playing ever game during Euro 2012 and eight of 11 since the head coach replaced Fabio Capello.

But Lescott in contrast has struggled to hold down a regular spot at club level.

He said: "I wouldn't say it's harder to get in the City team than England, not at all.

"But I know I need to be playing for City to be called upon for England.

"I have been in and out of the (City) team this season but we had a good win and performance at Sunderland recently.

"Hopefully after the that the likes of myself, Gareth (Barry) and James (Milner) can stay in the team."

Lescott believes England can be satisfied with a share of the spoils in Poland in their final qualifier for five months.

But he also thinks it is unfa ir that keeper and City team-mate Joe Hart blamed himself for the home side's second-half equaliser.

Lescott said: "It was tough but we knew that was probably going to happen and that was going to be the case.

"It was pretty intense but we showed character to hold out for a point.

"As for their goal, I think the header might have gone in anyway whether Joe would have come or not for the ball.

"It came off me as well so it's not just down to him. I know Joe well and he will take responsibility if he feels he's made a mistake but it was my man so it's not down to one player.

"We win as a team and we have set-backs as a team - no-one is being blamed."

Dzeko: Sub tag does my Edin

Dzeko: Not a super-sub as wants to start

Dzeko is City's leading scorer with six goals this season but four of those goals have come from the bench, including two in Saturday's 2-1 win.

The Bosnia international was introduced with 11 minutes remaining and within 60 seconds had equalised before converting an injury-time pass from Sergio Aguero for the winner.

City number two David Platt confirmed Dzeko's match-changing contribution had put him in contention to start Wednesday's Champions League encounter with Ajax.

Dzeko, who also scored the winner at Fulham as a substitute, said: "The manager (Roberto Mancini) is there to pick the team and I'm there when the team needs me.

"But I was never a super-sub even before I came to Manchester City.

"I always used to play from the beginning (for Wolfsburg) and I scored a lot of goals - not as a sub.

"In the last few games the situation has been like this and I'm just happy to be scoring goals. But I will never be a super-sub, I want to play."

Platt said: "Edin won't have that tag (super-sub) either because he will get his starts like every other player will get their starts.

"We've got 24 players, four of them are on the treatment table, so we had a squad of 20 to pick from.

"Edin came on and got his two goals and has put himself firmly in the manager's thoughts for Wednesday night (against Ajax).

"But we will pick a team on what we think is right for Ajax and the one after that."

Platt was pleased with the reaction of Dzeko to not starting the game.

He said: "Edin has been in superb form, not just goalscoring wise, and towards the end of last season he was coming off the bench and doing well.

"But when he has started he has done very well, as well. He is a top, top player.

"People should be disappointed when they are not in the team but the reaction you want when they come on is that they fight for their team and they have all done well."

City defender Joleon Lescott continued his boycott of Kick It Out at The Hawthorns by not wearing the T-shirt although his club's official day in support of the campaign takes place at home to Swansea next weekend.

Several City players did wear Kick It Out shirts which were borrowed from Albion, whose players were wearing West Brom Foundation T-Shirts in support of their local charity.

Lescott has not worn a shirt for the past three years since Newcastle's Emre Belozoglu escaped punishment for allegedly racially abusing Everton's Joseph Yobo during a game in December 2006.

The Baggies surrendered their 100 per cent home record after Shane Long had broken the deadlock mid-way through the second period.

But manager Steve Clarke took plenty of encouragement from his side's performance even though the sending off of City's James Milner for a professional foul after 23 minutes aided their cause.

Clarke said: "You have to credit Man City. T hey showed why they are champions.

"They showed when they went down to 10 men that they are champions for a reason. Their performance with 10 men was excellent.

"But we acquitted ourselves very well against them, showed again that we are a good team who can give anyone a game.

"Their second goal on the break comes as a consequence of the fact we were so desperate to win.

"We went for the winner. It is admirable in one way and disappointing it didn't work out for us.

"But that's the way we play. Maybe it was a bad decision to go chasing the winner rather than settling for a point.

"But we want to win. It's a mindset and characteristic we have got here and we are trying to put into the players."

Sabtu, 20 Oktober 2012

West Brom v Man City reaction

City looked in danger of falling seven points adrift of leaders Chelsea after James Milner was sent off in the first half of Saturday's Premier League clash at The Hawthorns and then Shane Long broke the deadlock for West Brom.

But Dzeko equalised within 60 seconds of entering the action with 20 minutes left and then in injury time snatched the winner with his sixth goal of the season.

After the 2-1 win, City first-team coach Platt said: "If you look at Edin's career for Manchester City, the goals he has scored, he has got a lot of heavy goals, goals that are very important.

"I remember goals at Blackburn the season before last which more or less gave us Champions League qualification.

"You look back at last season as well and he got some vital goals. To win the league, Aguero's goal will always be the one but remember Edin equalised.

"He has been a threat all season and his form has been very good all season."

Milner was sent o ff for a professional foul after bringing down Long midway through the first half.

But Platt felt City deserved their victory after controlling the game for long periods despite their numerical disadvantage.

Platt, deputising at the press conference for sore throat victim Roberto Mancini, said: "Watching it live it didn't seem a goalscoring opportunity to me for the sending-off. Equally you can see why it is given.

"But we can't sit there for 70 minutes grumbling about a decision.

"For the rest of the first half we were affected by it to a certain extent and no one was controlling the game.

"We said at half-time if we keep our control and discipline, stay together, we know we can impose our play on them and in that second period we controlled the match.

"If you look at the stats of efforts on goal and possession, you wouldn't have thought we'd had a man less than them."

Platt admitted City had been tempted to substitute strike r Mario Balotelli at half-time after he had been booked early on for bringing down Claudio Yacob.

Referee Mark Clattenburg then spoke to City captain Vincent Kompany after Balotelli escaped a second yellow card for a challenge on Long.

Platt said: "The temptation is there (to substitute Balotelli). He got booked inside 20 minutes.

"We looked at it at half-time but he was causing them a problem and we felt confident just by speaking to him that there was not going to be any loss of head. He looked pretty calm."

The Baggies surrendered their 100% home record and manager Steve Clarke admitted they paid the penalty for chasing the winner in the closing stages.

It was from an Albion corner that City broke clear to score their late winner.

Clarke said: "I thought we deserved something out of the game. I thought we played well, stood up to Manchester City, but they showed when they went to 10 men that they are champions for a reason.

"Credit to them, their performance with 10 men was excellent and the only feeling I have now is being disappointed to lose the game so late.

"It was maybe a bad decision to go chasing the winner rather than settling for a point.

"We still wanted to win the game. It is a mindset and characteristic we have got here and are trying to put into the players.

"We wanted to win the game but you get a corner in injury time and think you can win it. Maybe we should have been a bit more careful and maybe settled for a point."

As regards the Milner red card, Clarke admitted: "It was a marginal one. If it had gone against us, maybe I would have been disappointed."

Mancini defends 'cocky' Hart

Hart: Backed by Mancini

Former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane, working as an ITV pundit at England's World Cup qualifier in Poland in midweek, said he felt Hart had been a "little bit too cocky this year".

Keane's comments came as the television station filled time after the kick-off for Tuesday's game in Warsaw was delayed due to heavy rain.

His remarks also came in spite of a performance against Borussia Dortmund earlier in the month after which Hart was widely hailed as the best keeper in the world.

But the 25-year-old was at fault as Poland equalised to claim a 1-1 draw after the international in Warsaw was rearranged for Wednesday.

When asked about Keane's comments, Mancini said: "Every keeper is like this.

"It is important because if not, you should choose another position. If you want to be a keeper you should be cocky.

"Joe is a good guy, he works very hard for this, he wants to improve.

"Remember last week, (Wayne) Rooney on T witter said Joe Hart is the best keeper in the world. And now he is cocky.

"It is my opinion Joe Hart is the best keeper in England and one of the best in Europe and sometimes the keeper can make a mistake, but that is normal."

Keane suggested that Hart was not facing enough competition for his place with club or country and may therefore take "his eye off the ball".

"There's a fine line between confident and cocky, and I think he's been a little bit too cocky this year," said the Irishman.

Mancini dismissed those concerns, even though Hart has only kept one clean sheet for City this season.

The Italian said: "Joe is strong enough for this. He knows he is one of the best but if you want to continue to be the best you should work very hard.

"Everyone can make a mistake, it is impossible to be perfect. Only Mario (Balotelli) is perfect every day!"

The postponement of the England match meant a disruption to Mancini's preparations for the champions' Barclays Premier League match at West Brom this weekend.

As well as Hart, defender Joleon Lescott and midfielder James Milner were involved in the Polish capital.

It was a freak disruption but even though Mancini did not necessarily want City's trip to The Hawthorns put back as a result, he thinks there should be flexibility for that to happen.

He said: "I think sometimes when this situation happens we can move our game from Saturday to Sunday. This is easy because we are not on TV and we play at three o'clock Saturday.

"But I am not disappointed. I am worried because Joe, James, Joleon - today (Friday) is the first day training and we play tomorrow."

There were reports that some England players took sleeping pills after the postponement on Tuesday to help them rest ahead of the rearranged game.

It has also been claimed that some caffeine tablets were taken prior to the match the following day.

Mancini does not think that is an issue.

He said: "If there are some players that want to take a coffee he can.

"I don't think you need to take a pill to sleep but I know nothing. No player ever talked to me about this."

Kamis, 18 Oktober 2012

Dickov extends Wabara deal

Wabara: Staying with Latics

The England Under-20 international will remain at Boundary Park after impressing for Paul Dickov's side.

Wabara's initial loan was due to end after Saturday's npower League One home match against Leyton Orient.

Dickov's attentions are now expected to turn towards extending striker Matt Derbyshire's loan from Nottingham Forest.

Rabu, 17 Oktober 2012

Palace want 20m for Zaha

Zaha: Attracting interest from several Premier League clubs

Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham have all been linked with the 19-year-old in recent weeks.

Palace are determined not to lose Zaha and the latest statement from Selhurst Park indicates he will not be sold on the cheap.

Parish said: "He is an extraordinary talent. I said at the start of the season that keeping hold of Wilf would be like spending a lot of money on a transfer.

"Other sides can fly their kites but it would take 20million before we even got interested.

"He has got the lot, provided he keeps his feet on the ground and continues working so hard on his game - then it will all come."

Selasa, 16 Oktober 2012

Platt highlights squad strength

Platt: Strength in depth key

Aside from the Capital One Cup tie against Aston Villa last month, midfield talisman Toure has played every minute of City's games this season.

Playmaker Silva also started in all three of City's games - against Fulham, Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland - in the space of a week before the current international break while others were rotated.

But first-team coach Platt said: "They're not indispensable, we have to look at things. We want to get to a point where nobody is indispensable. What we know with Yaya, he can give us so much balance, so much control of the game - a lot goes through him.

"With David, when you think you are coming up against a tight defence, can open things up with his ability. But we address every game as it comes, with one eye on what the players have done and what the players are going to have to do in the next game.

"We picked a team for Dortmund but the manager already had one eye on Sunderland. A lot is made of peo ple missing games but we don't just pick a team for one particular game."

Balotelli no role model - City

Balotelli: Not a good role model at City, according to Marwood

Balotelli has been involved in several bust-ups with City boss Roberto Mancini with the striker's antics upsetting his fellow Italian.

Marwood believes Balotelli should be following in the footsteps of some of his team-mates by setting a good example to the young players coming through at the Etihad Stadium.

Asked what kind of role model Balotelli represents, Marwood is quoted as saying in the Sunday Mirror: "I think that it's important to make a good example.

"I think - and we all know who we are talking about - that you will get people within the system who do not show the right values and the right behaviour.

"In the main, we have a fantastic group of players here.

"I look at [Pablo] Zabaleta, I look at [Vincent] Kompany, I look at Joe Hart, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott.

"I think we have a lot of players who can behave in the right way.

"You just have to make sure that they are the role models."

Senin, 15 Oktober 2012

England Under-21s lose Rodwell

Rodwell: Tight hamstring

The Manchester City midfielder was replaced at half-time during Friday's first leg due to a tight hamstring and, after being assessed by the England medical team, it was announced he would be returning to his club.

Rodwell will therefore miss Tuesday's return leg against Serbia in Krusevac, where England will defend a 1-0 lead as they bid to reach next summer's finals.

Coach Stuart Pearce said: "We're disappointed for Jack, naturally, but I know what I've got in this squad and I know they're good enough to see the job through.

"We've had a lot of injuries to contend with throughout this qualification campaign so it's not a challenge we're unfamiliar with. I know my players and I'm no less confident in our chances."

Pearce, who is also without Liverpool defender Jack Robinson and Norwich goalkeeper Declan Rudd, has decided against calling up any replacements for the match.

Meanwhile, Pearce says he is confident his side will not be su bjected to racist abuse at the Mladost Stadium in Krusevac.

Dealing with the Serbian threat on the field is the priority, with it hoped that those in the stands at the 10,330-capacity venue will not steal the headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

Pearce believes there will be no repeat of the scenes which marred England's last meeting with Serbia, at the 2007 championships, when UEFA officials were forced into an impromptu anti-racism announcement after Nedum Onuoha was targeted by a pocket of supporters.

"That was some years ago and we have no fears in that respect," said Pearce.

"I believe that everything has moved on since then. My only concern is the match and making sure our players are prepared for the game and any eventuality that may occur during it.

"Anything else over and above that will be dealt with by the authorities and the referee, as it normally is on the night."

England head into the midweek tie looking to secure t heir safe passage to a fourth straight Euro finals, and Pearce is confident they can get the job done.

He added: "We have got some experienced heads in the dressing room. I think they are mature enough to deal with the atmosphere they will face.

"Admittedly, they are only young but every time we have taken them into Europe, we think they have had a decent grounding at their club.

"This tie is far from finished and they'll make it very unpleasant for us but we will set the team up to win."

Dudek: Hart can be world's best

Hart: Has the potential to become the world's best, says Dudek

Manchester City shot-stopper Hart is in line to win his 26th England cap in Poland on Tuesday night when the Three Lions travel to Warsaw in World Cup qualifying.

The 25-year-old is already rated highly and has earned plaudits for his performances for both club and country.

Ex-Liverpool and Real Madrid shot-stopper Dudek, who stepped down from the international stage in 2009 before leaving Madrid last year, feels Hart is heading in the right direction.

"Hart has great potential for sure," he said in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports. "He very quickly confirmed his ability in the Manchester City team.

"English fans complained recently about players in this position. But England have had some great keepers and Hart is another one on this list.

"He is going in the right direction.

"Can we name him the best in the world? It is difficult question.

"You can find fantastic keepers in other leagues as well, for example (Ik er) Casillas in Spain or (Gianluigi) Buffon in Serie A. They have kept their top form for a very long period.

"If Hart can do the same, he will have a real chance of becoming the best in the world."

Dudek, who won the Champions League with Liverpool in 2005, believes former Reds team-mate and England captain Steven Gerrard will pose a threat against Poland on Tuesday, particularly from free-kicks.

"We must remember about Steven Gerrard's free-kicks," he said. "During Euro 2012 we realised what a danger they can be."

Dudek returned to Poland after leaving Madrid and has been involved in television punditry work, but the 39-year-old is not ruling out a comeback on the pitch, admitting a move to Major League Soccer would be an interesting avenue to explore.

"I still practice two times a week, to be on form," he said. "I have not yet officially finished my career.

"Let's say, I'm considering now what I can do after retiring. But honestly , I still find in myself a desire to play again!

"And maybe I'll decide to come back? Major League Soccer in the USA seems to be an interesting direction. Who knows, maybe one day."

Marwood wants Academy patience

Marwood: Excited about City future

The Premier League champions have invested heavily in player recruitment since Sheikh Mansour's takeover in 2008 and have now turned their attention to youth development.

A 200million Etihad Campus is scheduled for completion for the 2014/15 season and is designed to help City produce youngsters capable of graduating to the first team.

City football administrator Marwood is excited by the project, however, he acknowledges that it will take time for home-grown players to make an impact in the Premier League.

"If you look at the acquisitions we've made at the youth level, a lot of them have been around 15 or 16 and that's going to take some time," said Marwood in The Independent.

"There probably is a gap. There is a way to go.

"We all hope we are going to produce something that's quite unique and quite special but ultimately it's about the people who execute the strategy.

"We are all very excited about building this incredible c ampus but it's about the people, not the buildings."

Jumat, 12 Oktober 2012

Barry happy in the shadows

Barry: Midfield workhorse

The midfielder is something of an unsung hero at the Etihad Stadium, with a collection of more illustrious colleagues often stealing the headlines at the reigning Premier League champions.

Barry has no complaints with such a standing, with his game all about doing the little things well and making life easier for the more creative influences around him.

His work may not always be recognised outside of Manchester City's inner circle, with there no room for him in the latest England squad, but the 31-year-old is happy to continue going about his business in an understated fashion.

Barry told the Manchester Evening News: "I am that sort of player. I don't go on to the pitch thinking about walking back into the media area and looking for headlines.

"That's not my role and I have been lucky enough over the years to work for managers who have been able to see that.

"That's all I care about, playing my game, and as long as I'm playing and t he team is winning, it's perfect."

Barry's role at Manchester City is geared towards bringing the best out of David Silva and Yaya Toure, something which has been happening in recent weeks.

He added: "Since I came to City, you see the players the club have signed, and that is the reason I came here.

"They can make your job so much easier - it's fantastic to receive the ball and see the attacking options we have, the options to give the ball into feet, or put it in behind, and know they will create chances.

"That's what we did against Sunderland last Saturday."

Freedman warns suitors over Zaha

Zaha: Linked with a move in January

The striker is enjoying a fine season with the Eagles in the Championship, including netting four goals in his past two matches.

Premier League sides Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal have been linked with the England Under-21 international, who has been tipped to make a move in January, with a fee of around 11million mooted.

But Palace boss Freedman reckons his starlet is worth a lot more than that and he hopes the striker will stay and play Premier League football with the Eagles.

He said: "I know he is worth more than 11m. You're getting him cheap if you get him for that.

"Wilfried has dedicated himself to the game and is heading in the right direction. We give young players the chance to play and that's what he is doing now.

"It's a matter of time until he plays in the Premier League and let's hope that is with Crystal Palace.

"As we speak right now he's on a long contract and he's very happy."

Balotelli out of Armenia clash

Balotelli: Failed to recover from flu

Balotelli, who missed his side's opening two Group B encounters due to his decision to undergo laser eye surgery in the last international break, was set to lead the line at the Hrazdan Stadium alongside Pablo Osvaldo after head coach Cesare Prandelli announced his starting line-up yesterday.

But now Juventus forward Sebastian Giovinco will replace the Manchester City striker, who is expected to be available for Italy's next assignment against Denmark on Tuesday.

Rabu, 10 Oktober 2012

Banks: Hart needs competition

Hart: No clear competition

The Manchester City star is firmly established as Roy Hodgson's first choice but Banks is concerned there is no one currently pushing him for his place at either club or international level.

Romanian Costel Pantilimon and veteran Richard Wright provide back-up but little else at City while Hodgson has also selected the inexperienced John Ruddy from Norwich and Celtic's uncapped goalkeeper Fraser Forster for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Poland.

"Joe is the best English goalkeeper by a mile, no question, but what concerns me is that there is nobody challenging him for that position," said Banks, who won 73 England caps.

"I don't think he is the best in the world but the age he is (25), he stands a great chance of being the best.

"I don't want him to get too over-confident where he doesn't have to worry about his place.

"Nobody is pushing Joe Hart at all - he is not even being pushed by his club.

"P eter Shilton and Ray Clemence used to share the duties and they had Phil Parkes, Joe Corrigan and Peter Bonetti (challenging) and when I came through there was Ron Springett.

"You couldn't have a bad game and then say to yourself that you'd have to be in the squad because there is nobody else, you had to be on your toes.

"We currently have no strength in depth, none whatsoever and the reason is that with the Premier League you have foreign players taking the position of young home-grown lads.

"There are fewer and fewer players to pick from. We have got to find a method of bringing young goalkeepers through.

"If you are a goalkeeper your standards can't be raised (by playing alongside foreigners) because you have to be in the side to play. You are either in the team or you are not."

Banks believes Hart still has some areas of his game which require work but is confident he can iron out his flaws and inherit Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper I ker Casillas' mantle as world number one.

"He is still only a young man and he can still learn a lot and when I see him there is a lot to admire: his positioning and the way he is prepared to come off his line are excellent," added Banks.

"Okay, he might misjudge one or two crosses but that will come with experience because for a big man he is very agile.

"Crosses are the only weakness to his game but it is more difficult for a goalkeeper now because of the lightness of the ball and the way it moves in the air.

"I used to pride myself on my positional play and Hart's is good but positioning sometimes does not make the slightest bit of difference when you see that ball start to swerve.

"It makes it very hard to judge if you are going to catch it or punch it away."

Banks said he thought part of the reason there is a lack of talent coming through is due to the fact youngsters now do not see being a goalkeeper as an attractive propositio n.

"I think the position has lost its allure," said the 1966 World Cup winner, speaking at the launch of the 'In the 90th' campaign, marking the 90th season of the Football Pools.

"You imagine you are a young kid facing a ball that swerves and dips.

"You'd get discouraged pretty quickly. You'd soon want to be the one doing the shooting."

Selasa, 09 Oktober 2012

Atletico to consider Falcao sale

Falcao: Among the most sought-after talents in European football

The Colombia international is among the most sought-after talents in European football, with a prolific strike rate drawing attention from the continent's top clubs.

Chelsea and Manchester City are believed to be heading the queue for his signature, with the Premier League pair blessed with the financial backing required to put a deal in place.

Atletico would be reluctant sellers, but appreciate that offloading their prized asset to anyone willing to match his 60million (48.3m) buy-out clause would help to ease the financial strain on the club.

"60 million for Falcao would solve all the economic problems at Atletico," general manager Gil Marin told COPE Radio.

"I can say for sure, though, that he will stay with us until the end of the season. Not only will he stay, but so will all the players that the coach wants to stay.

"We will fight to perform a miracle which is what we are doing with what we have available.

"In Europe the re are 50 clubs with more income than we have. If we were to sell Falcao for 60 million then that would cover our debts."

Real Madrid are also said to be keen on raiding their cross-city neighbours for Falcao's services, but Marin doubts such a switch would be made.

"If Atletico do not qualify for the Champions League or cannot afford to meet his wage demands then I do not think that Real Madrid could afford him either," he continued.

"We have to do impossible things and take risks so that the fans can have the team that they want. It is difficult to maintain."

Practice paying off for Kolarov

Kolarov: Deadly with a dead ball

The Serbia international rifled home what has become a trademark set-piece in the weekend victory over Sunderland. With the amount of talent in Roberto Mancini's side it is testament to the 26-year-old's ability that he is one of the first in line to take free-kicks.

"Ali deserves the goals he has got in the last few weeks from set-pieces because he has religiously, three times a week, stayed out for 10 minutes and he keeps putting them in," said Platt.

"Ask Richard Wright: he has got a bad back from picking them out of the goal. Ali has got power, dip and direction but you don't just walk on and do those things.

"He deserves everything he has got because religiously he has been out there practising them."

Senin, 08 Oktober 2012

Mancini plays down Madrid trip

Mancini: Was in Spain on Sunday

Mancini witnessed a 2-1 Atletico win, and reports in Spain quickly stated that Radamel Falcao - who scored an early opener - was the reason for his visit to the Vicente Calderon.

Malaga's Ilsco and Eliseu were also said to be under Mancini's gaze - but he insists he was only in Spain to visit his son Andrea who is now playing for Real Valladolid.

"I am here to see my son who played in Valladolid," said Mancini.

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo also played down Mancini's presence.

"We know that Mancini has come to watch but we are calm on the subject of Falcao. I suppose Mancini is here to look for a house in Malaga!" he joked.

Prandelli 'hurt' by Balotelli

Balotelli and Prandelli: Avoided a fall-out

Balotelli was among six players recalled by Prandelli for the qualifying double-header after missing games against Malta and Bulgaria last month as he recovered from the procedure.

Prandelli felt it was unfortunate that Balotelli put his Manchester City commitments before those of his country, but admitted that - given the striker's stunning form for the Azzurri at Euro 2012 - it would have been wrong to leave him out of his selection on this occasion.

"I tell you the truth, when he decided to undergo surgery just two weeks before his commitments to the national team, there was hurt," Prandelli told a press conference.

"We now need to understand if he wants to become a champion. The blue shirt is a wonderful thing for all players.

"I had some thoughts (about dropping him), but then I thought of the games he has played for his country and I was comforted."

Domenico Criscito, Alberto Gilardino, Andrea Ranocchia, Antonio Candreva and St ephan El Shaarawy were also welcomed back into the fold when Prandelli named his 27-man squad on Sunday, but there was no place for either Inter Milan striker Antonio Cassano or Udinese hitman Antonio Di Natale.

"Why have not I called Antonio? I don't consider his or Antonio Di Natale's cycles to be over," Prandelli said.

"Right now, I want to try out a few younger players. But they will be up for consideration again if they are in the right condition."

Zenit St Petersburg defender Criscito was recalled after being sent home from the European Championships due to a betting investigation.

The 25-year-old former Juventus man was never charged and Prandelli added: "I am delighted to have Criscito available again. Now that everything has been resolved I can again consider him.

"The decision to leave him out of Euro 2012 was very painful on a technical and human level.

"I'm sure that he'll forget all about it once he steps out on to the p itch."

Italy travel to Armenia for their third Group B qualifier this Friday, before facing Denmark at the San Siro in Milan next Tuesday.

Prandelli's men are bidding to rediscover the form that took them all the way to the final of Euro 2012 after opening their World Cup qualification bid with a 2-2 draw in Bulgaria and an underwhelming 2-0 home win against Malta.

"These are two delicate games - important and perhaps decisive," Prandelli said.

"I am convinced that the mistakes made in the first qualifying matches will not be repeated again."

Barry targets England recall

Barry: Eyeing England recall after injury setback

Barry was forced to miss Euro 2012 with an abdominal injury and did not return to action until last month.

That also cost him a place in Roy Hodgson's squad for the opening World Cup qualifiers and he is again watching as the national team take on San Marino and Poland over the next fortnight.

Reports on Monday suggested Hodgson is set to add midfielders Jonjo Shelvey of Liverpool and Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand to his squad to cover injuries ahead of the qualifiers, which would mark the former's maiden senior call-up.

Barry said: "I have not spoken to the England manager, but I understand why I am not in it. My season hasn't really got going, and I am still getting over the injury.

"I am hopeful that if I can get a run in the team, and get some games together, I will be in the next squad.

"I am obviously disappointed because I want to play for my country but I am not ready to retire yet, and will just keep working hard.

"I am not going to say too much. I just want to work hard to get back."

Barry admits it has been doubly frustrating because Hodgson only took charge in the summer.

The 30-year-old had wanted to make an impression on the new manager but knows he must bide his time.

He said: "The injury came at the wrong time with the new manager coming in.

"It is tough sometimes to force your way back in - I have experienced it before.

"The manager is picking players he has called up, and relied on, during the summer and is probably thinking there is no need to oust them at the minute.

"It's just down to me to keep working hard, keep my place in the team and then force my way back in.

"Sometimes you need a bit of luck with injuries and so on, but I'm confident that when the call comes, the manager knows what I can do and I'm sure that if there's a space for me I will be called upon."

Barry, who played 90 minutes in City's 3-0 Premier League win o ver Sunderland on Saturday, will spend the international break working on his fitness.

He said: "We have a couple of days off now and then will be back to work on ticking over, and keeping the fitness up.

"It will be frustrating for me because I was looking forward to a run of games, and the international break has come at the wrong time.

"But it's about making sure we are fresh when the games come again."

Minggu, 07 Oktober 2012

Balotelli back in Italy squad

Balotelli: Returns for Italy

Manchester City striker Balotelli returns to the Azzurri squad after missing games against Malta and Bulgaria with an eye injury, with Domenico Criscito, Alberto Gilardino, Andrea Ranocchia, Antonio Candreva and Stephan El Shaarawy also welcomed back into the fold.

Italy first travel to Armenia for the Group B qualifier on October 12, before facing Denmark at the San Siro in Milan on October 16.

Zenit St Petersburg defender Criscito is recalled after being sent home from this summer's European Championships due to a betting investigation. The 25-year-old former Juventus man was never charged.

Bologna forward Gilardino and Inter Milan defender Ranocchia make the 27-man squad for the first time in 2012, while Lazio midfielder Candreva returns for the first time having been dropped from the Azzurri's pre-World Cup training camp in 2010.

Prandelli has opted to take another look at AC Milan's El Shaarawy after the teenage forward hit five goals in four games for the Rossoneri.

Italy squad: Buffon (Juventus), De Sanctis (Napoli), Sirigu (Paris St. Germain), Viviano (Fiorentina); Abate (Milan), Balzaretti (Roma), Barzagli (Juventus), Bonucci (Juventus), Chiellini (Juventus),Criscito (Zenit St. Petersburg), Maggio (Napoli), Ogbonna (Torino), Ranocchia (Inter); Candreva (Lazio), De Rossi (Roma), Diamanti (Bologna), Giaccherini (Juventus), Marchisio (Juventus), Montolivo (Milan), Pirlo (Juventus), Verratti (Paris St. Germain); Balotelli (Manchester City), Destro (Roma), El Shaarawy (Milan), Gilardino (Bologna), Giovinco (Juventus), Osvaldo (Roma).

Lescott backed by Richards

Lescott: Support from Richards

Despite being one of City's most consistent performers in last season's title-winning campaign, Lescott has been kept on the bench in some key fixtures this season.

That has led to speculation that manager Roberto Mancini might have lost faith in the England international, although the Italian himself has stressed he remains an important player and is thinking of the bigger picture.

After sitting out last week's Premier League win at Fulham and the midweek Champions League draw with Borussia Dortmund, Lescott returned and gave an assured performance in a 3-0 win over Sunderland.

With captain Vincent Kompany out through injury, the 29-year-old played alongside Richards in the back line.

Richards told City TV: "He is a quality defender.

"A lot of people don't understand how good he is - well, people do because he is playing for England - but he really is a top-class centre-back, one of the best in the league.

"I think last seaso n and at the start of this season he has shown that."

Richards' own participation in a comprehensive defeat of the Black Cats came as a surprise.

The 24-year-old had not featured this season having injured an ankle on Olympic duty with the Great Britain side during the summer.

Richards, who is more regularly used as a right-back, had been expected to be out longer but with Matija Nastasic also suffering a knock, he was pressed back into action in the centre.

His presence helped City produce their first clean sheet of the season and lay the foundation for a win secured by goals from Aleksandar Kolarov, Sergio Aguero and James Milner.

Richards said: "Obviously it is nice to get back after so long but it is nice to get a clean sheet.

"We had not kept a clean sheet this season so to come in and step into the back four - I thought the back four was outstanding.

"But I thought James Milner was my man of the match. I thought he was o utstanding, he was everywhere.

"Obviously Kolarov had a good game as well, so it was an all-round good team performance and I am just happy to be back."

City now head into the international break in a healthy position with 15 points from their first seven league games.

They had been unbeaten prior to the match but the win was their first truly convincing performance of their title defence.

Mancini said: "It was nice to finish before the international break with this victory. I think we played very well. I am pleased with our players.

"Micah played very well. It was the first game after two months but I am happy for his performance.

"We needed him because we had two or three defensive injuries.

"We are happy for the clean sheet."

City raced into an early lead with Kolarov firing in a fifth-minute free-kick but it was not until the hour they gained tangible reward for their dominance as substitute Aguero added a second.

Richards had two headers cleared off the line, David Silva hit the bar and Carlos Tevez shot narrowly wide in a strong spell before James Milner struck the third from an 89th-minute free-kick.

Sunderland had gone into the game unbeaten and with confidence after taking four points off City last season.

But they were outplayed and had no complaints about the result.

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet said: "They really wanted to win the game and played really well.

"We had some chances on the counter-attack but not enough to threaten the opposition, whereas they created a lot of opportunities.

"You always know that when you play against Manchester City you are going to be busy.

"But we want to win games and it doesn't matter if you make a save or two. You don't want to concede three. It's always disappointing.

"In games like this you want to keep it goalless as long as you can, but by conceding early it meant a tough game got even tougher.

"After going ahead early City pressed us really high up the pitch and created lots of chances."

Mancini sidesteps Mario row

Balotelli: Marches down the tunnel

Balotelli walked straight down the tunnel when he was replaced by Sergio Aguero during the second half of City's 3-0 win over Sunderland on Saturday.

And reports in Sunday's newspapers suggested the Italy international had risked another row with his manager by booking a flight home within hours of his substitution.

But Mancini would not be drawn into an argument in the aftermath of the game, saying: "Mario worked a lot and he had a chance. I am happy with Mario, he played a good game."

It was left to the manager's assistant David Platt to give a more forthright appraisal of Balotelli's behaviour.

Platt said: "I don't know why he walked down the tunnel. He wasn't injured. Should he have walked straight down the tunnel? No."

Sabtu, 06 Oktober 2012

City sink claws into Black Cats

Milner: Mobbed after City's third late in the game

The scoreline barely reflected the hosts' dominance as they comfortably recorded their first clean sheet of the season in a one-sided contest at the Etihad Stadium.

There may have been some nerves with only Kolarov's fifth-minute free-kick to show for their first-half efforts, but the Black Cats were then overrun as they slipped to their first loss of the season.

Aguero came off the bench to add the second on the hour and Milner fired a free-kick through Simon Mignolet after 89 minutes.

Just as pleasing for City will have been their defensive solidity, which they rediscovered without their backline linchpin and captain Vincent Kompany, who was ruled out with a calf injury.

Micah Richards made a surprise return from an ankle injury in his place while Joleon Lescott was also restored to the defence.

Yaya Toure took over as skipper, playing alongside Gareth Barry in midfield, while Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli started up front.

Sunderland had former City winger Adam Johnson in their side hoping to make a point, but the England international was unable to make an impression.

City took the lead after Tevez was crudely brought down by Carlos Cuellar on their first attack.

The Argentinian had broken clear but was felled by a late tackle on the edge of the box and referee Lee Probert brandished the yellow card.

The City supporters felt it should have been red but they did not complain for long as Kolarov stepped up to curl a superb free-kick past Mignolet at the near post.

Not for the first time this season, Mario Balotelli was earmarked for some testing treatment by defenders but, although playing within himself, dealt with it well.

The Italian held off a challenge to shoot over but was later clumsily brought down by Craig Gardner and was unlucky not to get a free-kick.

City went close to a second as a Tevez shot was deflected into Pablo Zabaleta's path but Mignolet - making amends for any fault on his part for Kolarov's goal - saved at point-blank range.

Tevez drove the ball back across goal after it found his way back to him but Zabaleta was unable to turn it in.

Balotelli then did win a free-kick on the edge of the box after being caught in the face by Gardner's boot.

Kolarov took aim once again but his effort was deflected behind for a corner, perhaps with a suspicion of handball, by Sebastian Larsson.

Balotelli curled an effort wide and felt he should have had another free-kick after clashing with John O'Shea.

David Silva was clipped by Danny Rose but the referee played advantage and the Sunderland defender got back to prevent a Milner cross reaching Balotelli.

Barry drove wide as City continued to push and Sunderland's best efforts amounted to ineffective shots from James McClean and Steven Fletcher.

City started the second half well with Toure cutting inside and forcing Mi gnolet to palm over.

A chance fell to Richards from the resulting corner and his shot at the second attempt was cleared off the line by Rose.

Sunderland finally began to apply some pressure but a powerful header by Fletcher, which brought a fine save from Joe Hart, was ruled offside.

Kolarov then produced a fine tackle to deny Johnson a clear run on goal.

That served to shake City back into life and a sliding Balotelli was inches away from diverting a Kolarov cross towards goal.

Richards then brought a good diving save out of Mignolet with a powerful header from a Milner cross.

The second goal finally came as Aguero - on moments earlier for Balotelli, much to the Italian's disappointment - raced to the near post to turn in a vicious Kolarov ball from six yards.

That effectively signalled the end for Sunderland but City wanted more for their dominance.

Silva played in Tevez, who drove narrowly wide, and then roles were r eversed as the Argentinian rounded Mignolet to set up the Spaniard, whose sublime chip hit the bar.

Barry tried his luck but Gardner headed away before Richards again saw a chance blocked on the line in a crowded penalty area.

Richards was wild with an attempted overhead kick moments later and Toure was narrowly off-target with a long-range effort.

City threatened again after another slick move involving Richards, Aguero and Tevez but O'Shea managed to foil them.

Yet they would not settle for two and Milner whipped in a free-kick from the left of the box which took a slight deflection off the head of Gardner to evade Mignolet's grasp.

Man City v Sunderland reaction

Aleksandar Kolarov, Sergio Aguero and James Milner all found the target for City and, after a less than impressive performance mid-week against Borussia Dortmund, a comfortable win was the perfect fillip for the champions.

"It was a very good performance," he told Sky Sports 2. "We played very well and took no risks.

"To score three goals I am happy for us today. It was not easy, Sunderland are a good team and it was a very difficult game. All players who played today played very well.

"Victory is important before the international break and in the last two (league games) we play really well and we are improving."

It was City's first clean sheet of the season and centre half Joleon Lescott is hopeful it will be the catalyst for better performances.

"We are disappointed defensively this season but we are happy with the clean sheet," he said.

"We are looking strong now and since we have come back off the international break we hav e been playing well."

Assistant boss David Platt felt City had produced an emphatic response to their recent difficulties.

He said: "We needed the second goal to settle us down.

"At 1-0 there is always a risk, even though we controlled the game.

"In the second half we started to play with a lot of confidence and freedom.

"Games go for us and against us and whenever on the back of a bad result, we always get a reaction from top players and that's what we got.

"We are not stuttering as much as people make out. We have set ourselves in a decent position, we are there or thereabouts.

"If you do a parallel with our first seven games of last season, in terms of goals conceded and points that puts us better off."

City now have 15 points seven games into their title defence and remain unbeaten.

The result also brought up the welcome statistic of a first clean sheet of the season for the in-form but often exposed Joe Hart .

Platt said: "I'm delighted for the team and for Joe - we kept a clean sheet last week in our eyes because it was never a penalty."

Despite the manner of the performance, there was one negative point as Mario Balotelli headed straight down the tunnel after being substituted, but Platt shrugged when asked.

Kolarov opened the scoring with a superb free-kick after five minutes but it was not until the hour that substitute Aguero doubled the advantage.

Milner put a more realistic sheen on the scoreline when he curled in a free-kick after 89 minutes.

Kolarov and Balotelli had both wanted to take the free-kick from which the opener came.

Kolarov told Sky Sports: "I had a normal conversation with Mario about the free-kick and whether it was in a good position for me to take it or Mario.

"It was a good position for me to hit it with my left foot, I knew what I was going to do with it."

City rediscovered their defensive solidit y without captain Vincent Kompany, who was ruled out with a calf injury, while Micah Richards made a surprise return in his place.

The Belgian tweeted: "Injury isn't too bad but I was carrying it since the last game. Will have to try and get fit for internationals!"

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill was pragmatic as his side lost for the first time in the Premier League this season.

"They are a very fine side," he said. "Initially we didn't help matters couldn't keep the ball too well, but we were beaten by a much better side.

"I thought we should have done better in the first half period. We had opportunities, but we gave ball away to easily, having said that at half-time we were still in the game but we were well beaten in the second half.

"While the game was still 1-0 we were still with a chance but the more you press forward the more gaps you leave and they are more equipped than anyone to deal with that."

Cazorla reveals Silva persuasion

Cazorla: Revealed Silva persuaded him to move to England

Cazorla has been a revelation for Arsenal since his summer arrival from Malaga and has quickly established himself as a key member of Arsene Wenger's side.

The 27-year-old revealed he spoke to City attacker Silva about playing in England and that his fellow Spainard sold him on a switch to the Premier League.

"I spoke with Silva before I came here and he said I would enjoy everything about the Premier League," Cazorla told the Daily Mirror.

"He's won the title with Manchester City and said I'd enjoy the football and the respect between players, which is different to Spain.

"I'm very much at ease, so I'm glad I came. He gave me an introduction to the adventure of English football."

Cazorla also admitted his former Villarreal team-mate and Arsenal icon Pires also played his part in helping making the move to the Emirates.

"When the interest began with Arsenal, Robert told me not to think twice, that I'd enjoy it, that it was the perfect club for me, that Arsenal has aspirations to win the title and go far," added Cazorla

"Everything so far has been true and I'm very happy here. I feel very at home, I am getting used to daily life in England, which is so different from Spain.

"It helps having Mikel Arteta here, he's supported me a lot, and I'd like to thank the Arsenal players for giving me such a warm welcome."

Cazorla is happy with Arsenal's start to the season and believes they can challenge for the title this season.

"The team has done very well. I don't think we deserved to lose against Chelsea, we deserved at least a point," continued Cazorla

"But I think we've proved we're capable of fighting teams like Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea. There's a big future for us."

AJ reveals City frustrations

Johnson: Wouldn't sign for City if he had his time again

Johnson spent two-and-a-half seasons at the Etihad Stadium before leaving in the summer after his first-team opportunities became limited to substitute appearances.

The 25-year-old England international now believes players should think about the likelihood of them being involved in manager Roberto Mancini's first team if the opportunity to join City arises.

He told several morning newspapers: "Now, if I was a young lad, I wouldn't go to City.

"It is excellent when a club like City come for you. Hard to turn down. But you don't actually play for the champions - you're a squad member, which is totally different.

"It's not that you're not good enough, it's just that the likes of Yaya Toure are going to play ahead of you, no matter what you do."

Johnson was recruited from Middlesbrough and has FA Cup and Premier League medals to show from his time in Manchester, however he was not involved on the final day of the season when City dramat ically beat QPR and missed out on England's Euro 2012 squad.

Johnson was set to line up against City today as Sunderland headed to Eastlands.

He suspects the large size of the champions' squad, packed with internationals, means some players are bound to develop frustrations if they are not selected regularly by Mancini.

He said: "I think it would only be a matter of time before senior players become unhappy.

"You can probably have too many world-class players at once - everyone wants to play and they're not happy to be squad players.

"You're going to have trouble picking a team, and leaving people in the stands. I was one of them last season.

"He (Mancini) wanted that many players in the squad. He's got to deal with it, hasn't he?"

Jumat, 05 Oktober 2012

Super-sub Dzeko sinks Cottagers

Dzeko: Celebrates his late winner

City boss Roberto Mancini bullish claimed on Friday that his side would overcome an indifferent start and retain the title they won in such incredible circumstances back in May.

Such fighting talk came after a poor run of form that looked as if it would be extended today in west London as Fulham maintained parity heading into the closing stages.

Mancini's side fell behind to a Mladen Petric penalty after 10 minutes but levelled two minutes before break through Sergio Aguero.

The Argentina international tucked home after a superb save by Mark Schwarzer, who would be beaten again at the death by Dzeko.

The Bosnia international had been on the pitch for less than two minutes when he capitalised on a poor clearing header by John Arne Riise and lashed home to secure victory.

The hosts were unable to call upon talisman Dimitar Berbatov for the game after he pulled up with an injury in training this week.

Petric played in his place a nd was one of two changes made by manager Martin Jol, while there were only three survivors from the City team that fell to a 4-2 extra-time defeat at home to Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup.

City made the brighter start to proceedings by the Thames, retaining possession with ease as they waited for Fulham's defence to open up.

The hosts extinguished that early threat, though, and were handed a chance to break the deadlock by Mark Halsey.

Pablo Zabaleta tripped Riise after the full-back cut in from the left, which the referee adjudged to be just inside the 18-yard box.

The call looked harsh but Petric made no mistake with his spot-kick, sending Joe Hart the wrong way with a well-struck left-footed effort.

The Croatia international wasted a decent chance to double Fulham's advantage five minutes later as he scooped over after fine link-up play with Hugo Rodallega.

The visitors were remaining patient in their build-up play and it wo uld have paid dividends in the 25th minute had Brede Hangeland not swept clear Zabaleta's driven ball across the six-yard box.

Both sides came close from set pieces as the half-hour mark approached as first Riise saw a venomous 35-yard free-kick saved by Hart.

David Silva then whipped in a corner that was nodded to the back post by Javi Garcia, although Sergio Aguero's close range header could only find the side netting.

City were becoming visibly frustrated by their start to the game and Carlos Tevez confronted Riise after the striker had claims for a penalty waved away.

Gael Clichy tested Schwarzer with a hopeful left-foot drive as the reigning champions pressed for a leveller, although they were still struggling to stifle the Whites at the other end.

Vincent Kompany was booked for bringing down Petric on the edge of the 18-yard box and was fortunate Bryan Ruiz fired wide after the resulting free-kick was blocked.

While Fulham were threatening, they were having to defend at their best to keep City out.

Aaron Hughes and Schwarzer combined superbly to somehow stop the visitors' bundled effort on the line, before the latter showed great reactions to thwart Silva and Hughes cleared from the cross that followed.

But for all that defensive work, Fulham could not quite maintain their lead heading into half-time.

Tevez's deflected shot was turned goalwards by Silva, which forced Schwarzer into a fine save that unfortunately for the veteran fell kindly for Aguero to tuck away.

The tempo slowed as the second-half begun as Fulham continued in their attempts to contain City.

After Hangeland came close after connecting with a Ruiz corner four minutes in, most of the play was at the other end and Aguero was unfortunate to see a header loop just wide of the far post.

Mario Balotelli came on for Tevez with 25 minutes remaining as the visitors looked for a new attacking outlet , while Alex Kacaniklic replaced Petric for the hosts.

Five minutes after coming on both introductions were having an impact as first Balotelli curled wide from the edge of the box.

Kacaniklic then darted down the left and, after seeing an appeal for a handball against Zabaleta turned down, saw his blocked cross fall to Ruiz, whose strike would have nestled in the top corner had it not been for a Hart save.

Giorgos Karagounis came on for his Fulham debut with the clock winding down, while Samir Nasri and Dzeko were brought on in a bid to change the course of the game.

Less than two minutes after the latter's introduction the plan worked as Riise's failure to clear a Clichy cross allowed Dzeko to rifle home inside the box and secure three points.

Fulham v Man City reaction

Dzeko: Grabbed City's late winner

The reigning Premier League champions picked up a 2-1 victory by the Thames thanks to substitute Edin Dzeko's goal three minutes from time.

The Bosnia international's goal followed Sergio Aguero's effort late in the first half, which levelled things up at Craven Cottage after Mladen Petric's penalty had given the hosts a 10th-minute lead.

Referee Mark Halsey awarded the spot-kick after adjudging Pablo Zabaleta trip on John Arne Riise to be just inside the 18-yard box - a decision that irked Mancini.

"Against Fulham here it is always difficult," the City boss said. "They are a good team, have good players, a good manager.

"This pitch is always a tough for us but the problem is we were 1-0 down and I don't know why because the penalty was not a penalty.

"We were 1-0 down and Fulham didn't shoot on goal for the first 20 minutes.

"That was a problem but I am happy because the players continued to play well, kept calm and we had a lot of chances."

Asked to clarify why he thought the penalty should not have been awarded, the Italian retorted: "You saw everything. My opinion was that it was out [of the box] and it was no foul, no penalty.

"No, I don't agree it was a penalty. What do you think?"

Mancini claims the incident was the latest in a number of recent decisions that have cost his side.

"We can do nothing," he added. "There were a lot of mistakes in the past four games.

"We accept this, but we're not happy. This is true but we can do nothing, only continue to play.

"Sometimes it is a penalty but the referee is there to take a decision. Sometimes he does well, sometimes he can do bad.

"If we go to watch all our last three games, against Stoke it was handball. I don't know why the referee that was behind didn't give it. Against Arsenal there was one penalty."

Saturday's victory propelled City up the table and stopped the rot after a winless str eak that stretched to four matches in all competitions.

While Dzeko will take the headlines for his late goal, Mancini can be just as thankful to Riise for their winner.

The Norwegian left-back failed to clear a Gael Clichy cross, allowing Dzeko to rifle home inside the box and secure three points.

"It was a mistimed ball," Fulham manager Martin Jol said. "I would hit it with my right foot instead of trying to head it. It was a bad clearance.

"I think he will be disappointed because the mistake he made they punished.

"They are a very good team but there is always a possibility against them to play your football like, for example, Arsenal did last week.

"They have to punish them and we couldn't play our style, especially in the second half.

"We couldn't keep the ball, they were stronger than us and more eager to score.

"The only thing we could do was defend, defend, defend and that is probably not enough if you would lik e a result against them."

Considering Fulham had just lost the chance of a point against the reigning champions, Jol continued with his surprisingly philosophical stance in the post-match press conference.

"You can't complain because they are a world-class team," the Dutchman said.

"If it's still 1-1 after 87 minutes, then you still have a slight hope that could do something on the break or defend against them.

"I think we did defending but the frustrating thing was that although they dominated possession, especially in the second half, the goals were pretty scrappy."

City improvement cheers Mancini

Mancini: Things looking up at City

The reigning Premier League champions picked up a 2-1 victory at Fulham on Saturday thanks to substitute Edin Dzeko's late effort.

Had the Bosnian not found the net, though, the draw would have seen City go five matches without a win in all competitions for the first time in nearly four years.

Mancini admits his team are yet to find the form they showed last season but believes they are moving in the right direction.

"I was worried because we continued to play well and had chances," Mancini said. "We didn't score for 87 minutes and I am very pleased for Edin because he scored an important goal.

"It is also difficult for me to choose 11 players because I have 17, 18, 20 players that are really good.

"We play every three days so we need all of these players. Fulham is a difficult pitch so it was really important to have all these good players.

"I think that we were very close to the same we played last year.

"The problem we had was we didn't have all the players in pre-season. Twelve players started their pre-season 10 days before the championship began, which is difficult.

"I think, in my opinion, maybe after the international break we will be OK."

Saturday's win stopped the rot and propelled City up to fourth, keeping them within touching distance of Manchester United and Chelsea.

"We were unlucky for three or four weeks and we deserved to win," Mancini said. "Against Fulham we had a lot of possession, a lot more chances to score and I think we played very well.

"I am happy with that and if we had lost you could say it was a bad moment, but we wanted this victory and we got it."

Mancini's attention now turns to the Champions League tie with Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday for which the Italian says he has no new knocks after yesterday's victory.

Fulham, meanwhile, will be looking for a return to winning ways when they travel to Southampton next week end.

The Cottagers have enjoyed a bright start to the season and began well against City, with Mladen Petric netting from the penalty spot 10 minutes in.

However, Sergio Aguero's leveller and Dzeko's late goal saw Martin Jol's side lose out on a point the Dutchman believes would have been fortuitous.

"Everybody saw before the game they changed their team," Jol said.

"Normally they play with Aguero and striker Dzeko, but they left him out and played 4-3-3.

"They don't do that all the time and that was good for us because they showed us respect.

"Scoring the goal after 10 minutes gave us a good cushion but we need a bit more to score the second one.

"To score the winner at 1-1 we had one good chance through Bryan Ruiz and Alex Kacaniklic, but it was just not enough for me to say we probably deserved the point.

"On the other hand, I feel if you work that hard and concede a goal just before the end through our own mistake i t's a bit frustrating."

Man City v Sunderland preview

Yaya Toure: Injury doubt for City

Manchester City have injury concerns over midfielders Javi Garcia and Yaya Toure.

Garcia (thigh) was substituted in the first half against Borussia Dortmund in midweek while Toure appeared to be limping towards the end of the game, although manager Roberto Mancini played down fears.

Central defender Joleon Lescott could be restored after being left out of Wednesday's Champions League match but right-backs Maicon (heel) and Micah Richards (ankle) remain sidelined.

Defender Carlos Cuellar could return to the Sunderland squad.

The Spaniard is back in training after missing the last three games and manager Martin O'Neill is hoping he will be available.

Midfielder Lee Cattermole serves the second game of his three-match ban, while Phil Bardsley (ankle) and Wes Brown (knee) have both stepped up their bids for fitness, although while Bardsley is some way ahead of Brown, his first competitive action is likely to come for the Under-21s on Mon day.

Man City (from): Hart, Pantilimon, Wright, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Nastasic, K Toure, Clichy, Kolarov, Nasri, Milner, Silva, Y Toure, Barry, Garcia, Rodwell, Sinclair, Aguero, Tevez, Balotelli, Dzeko.

Sunderland (from): Mignolet, Westwood, O'Shea, Kilgallon, Bramble, Cuellar, Rose, Egan, Gardner, Colback, McClean, Larsson, Sessegnon, Meyler, Saha, Fletcher, Campbell, Wickham, Ji, Noble.

AJ scares living daylights out of RM

Johnson: Former City player

Mancini often tipped Johnson for big things after signing him for 7million in 2010 but the winger grew frustrated at a lack of first-team opportunities and joined Sunderland in August.

The 25-year-old spoke of his frustration and of difficulties with Mancini after making the 10million move from the Premier League champions back to his native north east.

The England international will now get the chance to show City what they have lost as the Wearsiders visit Eastlands for a Saturday lunchtime fixture.

Mancini said: "I think Adam played well here.

"The problem was maybe that he didn't play always. For young players like him it is important to play every game.

"I am sure he will do well for Sunderland and go to another top team because he deserves this. He is a good guy and a good player.

"I hope he can have a good game on Saturday because I like Adam, I think he is a really good player.

"He wanted to play every game and here it was difficult, he decided to leave."

City were well aware of the problems Sunderland can pose even before they signed Johnson.

Last season the Black Cats did more than any other side to derail City's title bid, beating them at the Stadium of Light and then claiming a draw at Eastlands.

They were in fact only five minutes from winning that second game as well, but two late goals saw the hosts snatch a point in a 3-3 thriller in March.

Mancini said: "It is very difficult because every time Sunderland play against us they play a fantastic game.

"Last year the point we got against Sunderland after we were 3-1 down with five minutes to go, and we equalised in the end with (Aleksandar) Kolarov, was an important point in the league.

"I think we need to remember that game. It is important we get three points but it will be a tough game. We need to play well."

Mancini is not happy to be in action so early in the weekend program me after featuring in the Champions League on Wednesday.

City played out a pulsating 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund and the Italian does not feel the time between games is sufficient.

He said: "Now we need to recover very well because we play Saturday 12.45 - I don't understand this.

"It is incredible that we play Wednesday night and now have two days and 12 hours to recover very well.

"We didn't play a very good game but we lost a lot of energy in the game and we need to recover.

"Everywhere (else) the team that plays in the Champions League plays three days or four days before the game and then after, three days minimum to play another game. Here, this is strange."

Mancini must lift the mood after the Dortmund encounter, which left City with just a point from their opening two games in Champions League Group D.

That is the same position they were in at the same stage last season, when they failed to qualify from their group .

The defensive performance was also a concern with City indebted to the brilliant Joe Hart for making several world-class saves to keep the Germans at bay.

City then only claimed a draw after Balotelli tucked home a controversial last-minute penalty.

Mancini said: "It is finished now, this game. We have two days to recover for the next game.

"Last year Sunderland took four points against us and it is important we know this will be a tough game."

Mancini could restore England international Joleon Lescott in central defence having left him on the bench - not for the first time in a key fixture this season - on Wednesday.

Mancini said: "We play another game in two days and now we have four or five players fresh. Joleon is an important player for us."

Zabaleta urges City to believe

Zabaleta: 'We have to believe'

The Premier League champions have made another disappointing start in the competition, collecting just one point from their opening two games for the second season in succession.

Last season they failed to reach the knockout stages but Zabaleta is remaining optimistic this time despite defeat at Real Madrid and a 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.

City must now secure better results from their back-to-back games against Ajax to keep their hopes of qualifying from Group D alive.

Zabaleta said: "We know we can do better. It is time to work hard and try to improve.

"We know it is going to be very difficult but we have to believe.

"We need to go to Amsterdam now and try to win. With only one point we have the pressure, but we need to be positive."

City played out a pulsating game with German champions Dortmund in midweek but were indebted to goalkeeper Joe Hart for keeping them in the contest.

The England number one produced a string of world-class saves and, although he could not prevent Marco Reus scoring, his efforts were not in vain as Mario Balotelli struck a late penalty.

Right-back Zabaleta said: "The only positive point for us is that we took one point from the game.

"It was a really tough game - we knew that before the game, they are a good side, but obviously we are disappointed because it is the Champions League and we need to try to win the home games.

"Overall they were better than us but Joe Hart was fantastic, he showed he's one of the best goalkeepers in the world right now.

"We have to thank him for the performance he gave."

City return to action in the Premier League as Sunderland visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

The Black Cats were the only team not to lose in the league at Eastlands last season, after a 3-3 draw in March, while they also beat the eventual champions at the Stadium of Light.