Mancini hails unsung hero Zabaleta

 

Roberto Mancini credited unsung hero Pablo Zabaleta with making the decisive contribution to Manchester City's crucial Premier League win over Arsenal yesterday.

David Silva bagged the second-half match-winner that ensured City only need a point from Wednesday's encounter with Stoke at the Etihad Stadium to claim top spot at Christmas for the first time since 1929.

Along with record signing Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli, Silva has hogged the headlines all season as City have maintained their impressive form.

Yet Mancini is fully aware there would be no title tilt without the contribution of the hard workers who allow the superstars to play.

Zabaleta is certainly one of those.

Capable of operating in midfield, the South American filled in at right-back during the defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Yesterday, with Gael Clichy missing, Zabaleta switched flanks and succeeded in pinning down Theo Walcott, which Mancini felt was key to City's eventual triumph.

"In a top team there are 11 players," said the Italian.

"But if we want to win and improve, we need to have 20 good players that have a good attitude.

"Pablo is a very clever player.

"He knew before the game it would be difficult. I told him if he played very well against Theo Walcott we would probably win the game."

The 26-year-old shrugged off the plaudits, insisting it was all part of the service.

"We had some problems with Gael Clichy suspended and Aleksandar Kolarov injured," said Zabaleta.

"But I have played many games at left-back. It was no problem.

"I just want to do my best for the team."

It is the type of unselfish attitude Mancini is demanding of his players, who retained their position at the top having now faced all their major rivals, of whom only Arsenal have visited the Etihad Stadium.

That record represents an ominous warning for major championship contenders Manchester United and Tottenham given City have won 17 games out of 18 on home soil since they were defeated by Everton almost a year ago.

What cannot have gone unnoticed by Sir Alex Ferguson and Harry Redknapp was the manner City approached their task.

Facing one of the Premier League's in-form teams, on the back of that first defeat at Chelsea, which in itself came immediately after crashing out of the Champions League, and having seen their league leadership snatched away by Manchester United a couple of hours earlier, City still retained their swagger.

They might have needed an impressive late save from Joe Hart to deny Thomas Vermaelen, who also curled an effort wide in the final minute, but City deserved their victory.

"This was a difficult time," said Mancini.

"Chelsea and Arsenal are two difficult games and sometimes you can lose. But after what happened in the first one, it was important to win the second."

And so on to Stoke.

The Potteries outfit were the first team Mancini faced as City manager two years ago.

It turned out to be the only time in five meetings he was successful against Tony Pulis' side before the FA Cup final triumph at Wembley in May.

Three days later, City won again in the league.

However, with Stoke bouncing back from a rocky patch to record four successive league wins and clamber back into more familiar territory in the top half of the league, Mancini is taking nothing for granted.

"We need time to recover because it will be hard against Stoke," he said.

"They are a strong team, who defend very well. It will not be an easy game."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
News
i100
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club that later became synonymous with Hillsborough has dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor