MANCHESTER // Roberto Mancini has declared that his strikers hold the key to Manchester City's bid to retain their title and complained that his four forwards "can't score" at the moment.
City play host to Manchester United in tomorrow's Manchester derby, and Sir Alex Ferguson's team have proved far more prolific than the champions.
Mancini's men were the Premier League's top scorers last season with 93 goals, 54 of them coming from the specialist strikers Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez.
Even with Tevez failing to make a first-team appearance for six months, City scored 70 goals in all competitions last season. They have managed 25 so far in the current campaign.
Balotelli has one league goal to his name, Dzeko just one as a starter while Tevez, after an early burst of goals, has struck only four times in 17 games, and two of them were penalties. Balotelli's goal at Wigan is the only strike by a City attacker in open play during the past five games.
Mancini said: "Usually, when you have four strikers maybe you have two or three who don't score but one who continues to score. In this moment, we have four players that can't score. This is unlucky. I think that our season depends on our strikers. If we start to score like last year we have a big chance."
At this stage last season, City had struck 49 times. Now they have 28 goals and Mancini added: "I don't think we have the same quality we had last season in the first 15 games. We have big problems with players injured. We had a problem with defenders when we conceded more goals at the start the season. Now improve that situation and we need to work to improve the situation with the strikers."
One striker Mancini coveted in the summer was Robin van Persie, who joined Manchester United instead. "They were a strong team and they bought Van Persie and [Shinji] Kagawa. They put another 25 goals into the squad."
Actually, Van Persie scored 30 himself for Arsenal last season. He again is the Premier League's top scorer and while City possess the division's tightest defence, Mancini countered: "They have also scored nine more goals than us."
The way City's goals have come has been preoccupying Ferguson. Mancini's team have been awarded four spot kicks in their past three home games and 21 Premier League penalties since the start of the 2010/11 season.
Mancini, in response to jibes from Ferguson on that number, said: "I remember very well last year when [Ashley] Young was swimming four or five times in the last 10 games and then he didn't say anything."
United, in any case, have been awarded eight penalties this season. But while Mancini, as is his wont, declared United the favourites in the title race, he is nonetheless willing to defend himself and his side against Ferguson's jibes.
Moreover, he thinks that City have shed their age-old inferiority complex where their neighbours are concerned. They did a derby double over United last season, including a 6-1 win at Old Trafford and, Mancini believes, struck a psychological blow. "Now it has changed," he said. "Maybe two or three years ago we feared United."
Arguably, however, United were the last significant opponent City have defeated. Vincent Kompany headed City to victory in the April game billed as a title decider. Since then, however, they have failed to overcome Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax in the Champions League, plus Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal in the Premier League.
"We didn't play in June and July," said Mancini, in jest, before noting his team had defeated Tottenham.
"We dominated the game against Chelsea and missed only a goal. We deserved to win against Arsenal. They scored in the last 10 minutes."
Yet their drawing habit leaves City three points behind United, who have lost three times but won three more. It is why, Mancini said, this is a must-not-lose game.
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