Manchester City must reduce the 12-point deficit at the top of the Premier League before the upcoming Manchester derby to have any hope of keeping their title, their manager Roberto Mancini said on Friday.
The all-important derby at Old Trafford is looming on April 8, a fixture that looked likely at one stage to decide the outcome of this season's championship race.
But City's collapse at the start of the year, in which a five-point disadvantage quickly grew to a dozen, means that, even with seven fixtures remaining after the derby, Mancini's only hope lies in United dropping points in their next two fixtures to keep City within sight of their rivals.
"We hope that happens," Mancini said as his side prepares to take on Everton on Saturday.
"We hope maybe we can play the derby nine points, seven points, even 10 points behind," Mancini said. "Less than 12 would be better, because from the derby to the end of the season, they have three or four difficult games."
City's 1-0 victory over United last April proved critical in them leapfrogging Sir Alex Ferguson's team and going on to win the title.
Mancini also insisted that the current legal problems facing forward Carlos Tevez will have no effect on his form on the field.
Tevez scored a hat-trick in last week's 5-0 FA Cup win over Championship side Barnsley, just days after being stopped by police and arrested on suspicion of driving while disqualified.The Argentina international has since been charged with the offence and driving without insurance but Mancini said he was not concerned.
"If he has made a mistake, it [prosecution] is correct," Mancini said. "Everyone should respect the rules. But I don't think it will be a big problem."
Mancini also confirmed that current injury victims Sergio Aguero (knee) and Vincent Kompany (calf) will not feature today against Everton and will now be rested until after the upcoming international break to allow them extra time to recover.
Southampton v Liverpool Phillippe Coutinho says the form of Luis Suarez has helped the Brazilian settle since he arrived at Liverpool from Inter Milan in January.
The Brazilian midfielder said ahead of Saturday’s game at Southampton: “Suarez is phenomenal. The goals he scores, the way he gives himself to the team ... it is very important and I am very happy to be able to play next to him. I think it’s the way he gives himself to the team. He doesn’t let one ball go.”
Stoke City v West Bromwich Albion The slump in form in January that saw West Bromwich Albion pick up just one point from four games is still being lamented by manager Steve Clarke.
Albion are in mid-table in the league, but too far off the top five and a fight for a European spot, and Clarke said: “If you look at the season as a whole, that one month is an anomaly. It’s a big hole in our season and if we hadn’t had that hole, maybe it could have been a better season."
Swansea City v Arsenal Arsene Wenger has urged his Arsenal side to show a repeat of the form that saw them win 2-0 away at Bayern Munich in midweek as they went out of the Uefa Champions League when they take on Swansea City on Saturday.
The Frenchman said: “Swansea is always a difficult place to go and we need to repeat the game we had at Bayern Munich, it’s as simple as that, again based on solidarity, fighting spirit and a bit win-at-all-costs.”
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