Roberto Mancini has pleaded with Manchester City fans not to unsettle Carlos Tevez with abuse, hindering his club's attempts to go top of the Premier League outright for the first time tonight.
Mancini insists that Tevez, who is likely to be stripped of the club captaincy against Everton at Eastlands, will approach the game positively, though it appears that the meeting between manager and player at Carrington on Friday afternoon has not broken the deadlock – the 26-year-old is understood to be still intent on leaving the club. Their meeting may have gone some way to calming the situation but it was not hugely significance in the wider scheme of things.
Mancini seems to favour Kolo Touré above Vincent Kompany as stand-in captain if Tevez does not wear the armband tonight but has said Tevez will play.
"It's important that we are focused on Everton and the supporters are focused on Everton. We should forget [the Tevez situation] because we must focus on the next game," he said.
"The fans were fantastic [against Juventus in the Europa League last week]," he added. "They should continue to support a team like they have in other times. The next 20 days will be very important."
Mancini, who took over as City manager exactly a year ago today, insisted that Tevez's unbridled love of football would transcend the politics of the past six days, which began with his transfer request. "Carlos is a football player," he said. "He loves football and he plays like when we were young and in the garden. It's the same in training or in a match. I don't think he will be different." Mancini was speaking ahead of his meeting with Tevez in Manchester, though the meeting has not changed his impression. Tevez's representatives insist they have received no approaches from other clubs and that any bids must be put to City.
Everton beat City twice last season, with the Eastlands defeat culminating in a touchline row between Mancini and David Moyes and anger from the visitors that one of their VIP guests, George Downing, was asked to leave the stadium after a disagreement with City chief executive, Garry Cook. But the buoyancy has gone, admitted Moyes.
"I'm not quite at the point yet of giving up thinking I can have a good year," Moyes said. "[I'm] not quite there yet. Obviously that will be coming shortly and I think its how you are after you come out of Christmas and how you are going into January and a bit further down the line. We can still get to the level where we want to go but if not then we will look at it differently."
Moyes has a chronic lack of serviceable strikers – Louis Saha and Jermaine Beckford have scored five time between them; top scorer Tim Cahill will leave for Australia's Asia Cup campaign next month – and will find out this week whether he can talk Landon Donovan into a repeat of last season's successful loan spell, now that LA Galaxy's campaign is completed. "Maybe I'll get a great striker and realise it's not just [the lack of a striker] that is affecting us, but until I plug that gap I won't be able to answer it," Moyes said.
It is understood that Downing, a multi-millionaire property magnate, has not been invited by Everton to be in their directors' box tonight but will make his own way to the ground as a paying visitor despite last season's game concluding with Everton chief executive Robert Elstone faxing Cook to demand why he had – to the visitors' minds – been shown disrespect. City still insist that Downing's amusement with the Everton chant of "2-0 and we've spent fuck all" had contributed to him being asked to desist from anti-City comments. Nine months on, even Moyes acknowledges that City's spending is beginning to create stability. "I think Manchester City are getting a squad that looks as if it will be closer to the top than the bottom and because of that, that means there might be some stability," he said. "I don't know if they have to win to get that. It wasn't the case here at Everton, we didn't have to win [to create stability] – we had to stay in the Premier League and try and build on things."
Though many of the players Mancini inherited from Mark Hughes have been unhappy, Micah Richards reflected on the Italian's first year at City by saying Mancini had revived him. "It went a bit sour under Mark Hughes, though not because of him," Richards said. "I only blame myself for that. Roberto Mancini has given me a lot of confidence to start playing again. I'm doing well, I'm back in the England team and hopefully can continue to play well. We always said give him time and he would produce the goods. He's changed the club around. He's happy, the players are happy and we're just looking forward to the future. We're excited about what we can achieve together."
City are unbeaten in nine games in all competitions. Everton have not won since 30 October – seven games ago.