Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, said his players should forget Manchester United and “go for our way, always” as they attempt to regain Premier League ascendancy in the testing territory of Stoke City's Britannia Stadium this evening.
As Sir Alex Ferguson's public discussion of Carlos Tevez ups the psychological warfare in the title run-in, Mancini said he did not care if the United players had watched his side's capacity for self-preservation in fighting back to beat Chelsea 2-1 in midweek. "I don't know," Mancini said. "It's not important this. It's not important. I think we should go for it our way. I don't think about United because we know that United is a strong team. I think it's important to have a message for ourselves [rather than send one to United] because in the last month we didn't play very well."
Tonight's match may be far more challenging than Wednesday's given that central defender Vincent Kompany has been struggling for fitness. As of early yesterday, he seemed unlikely to feature, with Joleon Lescott also out. Despite Tevez's energising contribution against Chelsea, Mancini does not deem him fit to start and though not dismissing the idea of the Argentine getting a full 45 minutes, that is improbable. "I don't know [about a full half]," Mancini said. "After six months he played only 30 minutes so I think be will be tired."
These are tense times for City's dream of eclipsing United and Sergio Aguero last night admitted that he sensed the feeling in the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday that the club's Premier League title hopes were evaporating as the side trailed 12 minutes from time. "We got the feeling there were some nerves among the crowd when we were 1-0 down. But when you're out there on the field it's all about just focusing, fighting," he said.
"We got the penalty and [I] converted it," Aguero said. "From that moment we felt we could go on and get the winner. That's what it's all about in a title race, not giving up. We are fighting for the title, we have confidence. We're the sort of team who know if we go behind we can come back and win the game."
Though Ferguson was scathing about Mancini's decision to field Tevez, Aguero's testimony suggested the player was desperate for a role against Chelsea. "He was really keen to play. He was bursting to get out there on the field," Aguero said. "Although I'm not Roberto Mancini – I'm not the manager – we all know he's an important player for us, a key player and with the nine games remaining in the season I think he can bring a lot to the side. If and when selected I think it's an important time for him to come back.
"He's a key player because he's got five years experience of playing in the Premier League. We have a lot of good players here and he is one other player, but he will be very, very important to us. He will bring a lot to the party for what remains of the season.
"Through what happened and the situation that came about I've not had much chance to play with Carlos but what we have done between the three of us – myself, Mario [Balotelli] and Edin [Dzeko] is to give a good account of ourselves in terms of goalscoring. We have done fairly well but I think it would be nice to have Carlos on board to add goals to the threesome."
Aguero, who has 24 goals this season, said he hoped to reach 30. "It would be lovely," he said. He also dismissed reports of Real Madrid's interest in him. "None of that has come from me and the City fans can rest assured I am happy here. First and foremost the major aim is to win the league title this season. Then I want to stay here for a long time after that. [Being second] is a different type of pressure [to being top]. We are in a position now where we can't afford to drop any points. For sure Manchester United are quite experienced as title chasers but we have to focus on ourselves."