MANCHESTER // Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, has told James Milner he could still have a key role to play in the remaining weeks of the season.
Milner, 25, has found himself marginalised as the club bid for a top-four finish and a place in the Champions League for the first time. They also have the FA Cup final to look forward to on May 14 and a chance to end a 35-year wait for a major trophy.
Milner has not featured in the last two games after being replaced, to his obvious annoyance, in the 59th minute by David Silva in the 3-0 drubbing by Liverpool.
In his absence City defeated Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final and secured a vital victory against Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League last Monday.
However, Milner could have a part to play in the home match against bottom-of-the-table West Ham United today after some comforting words from Mancini.
"James is disappointed he has not played in the last two games but I trust James," Mancini said. "He is an incredible midfielder.
"I think he can improve a lot, but for this we have time next year. Now we have another five games and the final and he will be an important player in this time."
West Ham have picked up only 13 points from a possible 51 on the road and lost to Chelsea last weekend, but Mancini will not be taking Avram Grant's side lightly.
"Every game is difficult. We have five league matches to go and need to be at our maximum in every one of them," he said. "We must take it step by step. Now we have West Ham and our focus will be only on that game.
"I saw them against Chelsea and for 45-60 minutes they played very well. We need to play very well. That is very important."
Mancini could be tempted to recall Edin Dzeko to the team after he stepped off the bench to score his first league goal at Blackburn.
Said Mancini: "I am very happy for Edin. In the last two months he has not played much. For a striker that is very difficult but he can do everything and score more goals."
Mancini will again be without the injured pair Carlos Tevez and Micah Richards (both hamstring), as well as Jerome Boateng (knee).
Grant, the West Ham manager, believes his team can take at least seven points from their last four games, which could save them from relegation.
The Hammers are three points away from safety and few observers would give them a chance against City today.
Home clashes with Blackburn and Sunderland either side of a trip to Wigan Athletic follow, but Grant insists West Ham can earn points from each of their final fixtures.
"What is the toughest game? Always the next one," he said. He declined to nominate City as the most difficult test. "I cannot say. I think we can take points from all of these.
"Of course, Manchester City away on paper is the toughest one but I think all the other teams will give everything to win the game against us. But we could take seven or nine points, I am sure about this."
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