x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Roberto Mancini defends Manchester City tactics

The Italian manager said detractors of Manchester City's style of play are scared because they do not want his team to succeed.

A siege mentality has been instrumental in propelling a side from Manchester to success over the past two decades. It will, Roberto Mancini hopes, enable another to overhaul their local rivals.

Manchester United and Manchester City reconvene today with memories of last season's breathtaking quartet of derbies still fresh. But a closer predictor of today's clash at Old Trafford could be November's stalemate at Eastlands. The thrill-a-minute contests are giving way to a drawn-out battle for supremacy.

Mancini has married work on fortifying his defensive structure with complaints about criticisms of City.

"I do think it is unfair," he said. "We are a positive team; we try to play good football; we are trying to change our whole mentality. But maybe City don't have big support from the newspapers.

"I think everyone is so afraid because City in the next two years will be one of the top teams in Europe. I told the players [to expect criticism] because it's easier for other supporters if there are only the usual three or four teams."

Unpopularity can be a product of expenditure as well as excellence, but Mancini added: "We want this. If we were top everyone would want United to beat us."

A regular accusation levelled at City has been a lack of adventure in the major matches. The Italian denies his side play for scoreless draws. "I prefer 1-0," he said. But there is no disguising the importance of a zero in the goals-against column.

"We are trying to work for clean sheets every game because if you win the title it's usually if you have the team who concedes the least goals," he said.

City, indeed, are yet to concede against top-six opposition this season when they have 11 men on the pitch; three goals were scored by Arsenal after Dedryck Boyata's early dismissal, but otherwise it is a perfect record against the best in England.

The other side of the equation is that they have struck only once against title rivals - Carlos Tevez's winner against Chelsea back in September. The expectation is that the Argentina striker will be alone in attack again today.

"We won 3-0 against Liverpool with only Carlos up front," Mancini said. "But it is important the team has balance and doesn't leave any space for United because that can be terrible for us."

The likelihood is that Edin Dzeko will be on the bench as, will Mario Balotelli, if he is fit, while Tevez encounters United's depleted defence.

With both Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans sidelined, Chris Smalling, the defender, will make just his fourth Premier League start for United alongside Nemanja Vidic, the captain.

"We're very, very pleased with Chris," Sir Alex Ferguson said. "He's played a few games now so of course he'll lack that bit of big-game experience, but in terms of the experience he has had, he's used it well and he's done well. He's been outstanding since coming to us."

As Mancini pointed out, however, with Nigel de Jong, the combative Holland midfielder, a major doubt, the injuries are not confined to United. The constant at Old Trafford is an attitude that has come from the top, a bloody-minded refusal to be beaten that Mancini admires.

"When you have a team who wins trophies for 20 years, your mentality is very strong," he said.

His side have cruel experience of United's spirit. Three matches last season, including both at Old Trafford, featured a decisive injury-time goal from Ferguson's indefatigable charges. "I think sometimes it was lucky," Mancini said.

It is the sort of luck City hope to turn into a habit of their own. Because if everyone hates his side, Mancini reasons, they will be achieving plenty.