x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Long wait may soon be over for Manchester City

Premier League title race: Roberto Mancini's men travel to Newcastle today knowing victory will push them a step closer to a first top-flight title since 1968.

Pablo Zabaleta, the Manchester City defender, says there is a 'positive atmosphere' running through their team ahead of today's match against Newcastle United at the Sports Direct Arena. Paul Ellis / AFP
Pablo Zabaleta, the Manchester City defender, says there is a 'positive atmosphere' running through their team ahead of today's match against Newcastle United at the Sports Direct Arena. Paul Ellis / AFP

Rival managers Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini are agreed in their assessment that ifManchester City collect three points against Newcastle United at the Sports Direct Arena today, a first title since 1968 is heading to the blue half of Manchester.

Relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers - City's opponents on the last day of the season - might have something to say about that assessment, but Newcastle pose City's biggest threat to pipping Manchester United to top spot.

Newcastle have won seven of their last eight games and Wednesday's defeat of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge kept them in the fight for a top-four berth.

"We know that we're playing for the title and this game will make the difference," Pablo Zabaleta, City's Argentine full-back, told the club's official website.

"We are well aware that if we lose or draw, United can overtake us if they beat Swansea.

"We know what is at stake. I can see our players are very focused.

"The momentum within our team is incredible and there is a very positive atmosphere."

The spectre of Papiss Demba Cisse - the Premier League's hottest striker - hangs heavy over the fixture. The Senegalese forward's 13-goal contribution has been one of the reasons behind Newcastle's challenge for a Uefa Champions League spot along with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

"They've probably been one of the best teams in the Premier League over the last three months and in Papiss Cisse, they have a real find," Zabaleta said. "The guy is unbelievable and every goal he has scored has been world class."

United lost 3-0 at Newcastle on January 4, and Ferguson has gone out of his way this week to warn Mancini his side will find life difficult in the north-east.

Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, said: "It's obvious that Spurs and Manchester United are going to talk us up because United want us to beat City, and the other reason for Spurs is to suggest to City they best be on their toes because it's not going to be an easy game. It's part of the psychology of managers."

In beating United on Monday, City denied Wayne Rooney and his teammates a single shot on target.

"We hope to stop Newcastle having any shots," Mancini said. "But I don't know whether Newcastle will agree with us. I don't think they will. It will be more difficult but we will try."

United will know City's result before they take to the field at home to Swansea City later in the day. The champions' other, unlikely, hope of winning the title is to overhaul City's goal difference. They are eight goals worse off.

"We will keep fighting because there are two games left," said Javier Hernandez, United's Mexican striker. "The possibility remains for us to win the title. …We will keep fighting until the end."

Even against the top flight's biggest sides, Swansea have tended to enjoy a monopoly on possession. Phil Jones, the centre-back, realises United cannot afford to be dictated to.

"It is important in any game that we keep the ball and play at our tempo, the way we like to play," he said. "The idea is to make a platform to build on. If we keep a clean sheet, which we are capable of, we will score goals."

Mancini - whose side lost 1-0 at Swansea this season - has claimed United have an "easy" game ahead of them.

But Brendan Rodgers, the Swansea manager, has warned United they face a "dangerous" opponent, because his side have guaranteed a place in the Premier League next season.

"If you look at Wolves [already relegated], who were 3-0 and 4-1 down against us last week and came back to draw, they had a freedom. You run and play with nothing to lose.

"That's why it's not an easy game, but a dangerous game for Manchester United.

* Agencies

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