Mancini: 'Now we take the fruit from the tree'

Crucial League game at Liverpool then an FA Cup semi-final with United. It could be City manager's finest three hours

There have been big weeks before in the "project" that is Manchester City under Roberto Mancini, and because this is City, predictability was never part of them. There was the critical period last February, when a dull goalless draw with Liverpool was followed by elimination from the FA Cup at Stoke and, three days later, a memorable 4-2 victory at Chelsea. That win prompted optimism about claiming a Champions' League place but when the two other claimants to it, Aston Villa and Tottenham, arrived at Eastlands in the space of five May days, only Villa were beaten and Spurs took the prize.

Almost a year on, it is the red brigades of Liverpool and Manchester United who lie in wait, at Anfield tomorrow night and then Wembley on Saturday. So the question to be answered is whether the great unpredictables can summon sufficient consistency for two huge results in the same week – knowing that never this season have they won against opposition of any great stature away from the home comforts of east Manchester.

The potential rewards should be incentive enough. Success against a weakened Liverpool, who had been brushed aside 3-0 in the second game of the season, would confirm third place in the Premier League and set up a run-in that could scarcely be less daunting; while to defeat United in the FA Cup semi-final would be regarded as Mancini's finest hour, not least for making his team clear favourites to win their first trophy since the League Cup of 1976.

At the Carrington training ground on Thursday, he used a metaphor from his native language to explain how the time is now right to seize the rewards for the season's hard work. "Now is the moment we take the fruit from the tree," the Italian said. "I'm tired, which after a year is normal when you work very hard, but now we have another 45 days to finish."

City approach the week in good heart, thanks in part to the enviable fortune of having had a fixture last weekend against Sunderland, one of the very few teams in the League who seemed to have decided they were sitting comfortably enough in mid-table not to exert themselves unduly. The outcome was a 5-0 home victory, equalling the largest winning margin of Mancini's tenure and confirming that with the right personnel in the right mood they can be a vibrant attacking force. It was significant that he started with both Carlos Tevez and the enigmatic Mario Balotelli, backed up by a line of three adventurous midfielders in Adam Johnson, Yaya Touré and David Silva. Only Nigel de Jong, rather than the more customary two holding players, was left to protect the back four and City looked all the better for it.

But that was against a Sunderland team "on a horrific run with a half-fit squad", according to their downcast manager Steve Bruce. Liverpool at Anfield and United anywhere are another matter. Tomorrow, City need to take ruthless advantage of the absence of Steven Gerrard, plus a clutch of defenders in Glen Johnson, Martin Kelly and Daniel Agger. Mancini, who took his squad out for a team-bonding meal at a favourite Italian restaurant, believes they are equipped to do so. It will not concern him if the game turns into one of City's dull draws but he cannot afford a dull defeat.

Similarly on Saturday at Wembley, where he once lost a European Cup final with Sampdoria against Barcelona, the result is all that matters for both teams. Mancini won his first Manchester derby, the home leg of last season's League Cup semi-final, but the 2-1 lead was overturned at Old Trafford and United are unbeaten in the three meetings since then.

"I think the gap now is very narrow," he claimed, based less perhaps on the League table than a narrow 2-1 defeat in the most recent derby, won by a spectacular overhead kick from Wayne Rooney, who will, of course, be missing on Saturday.

"The last game we played against United we were at the same level, and we deserved to win," Mancini claims. "They have a good mentality. But if we want to reach the same point we should continue to work because we have improved this year. I think we probably need more time but it's important that we start now to go into the Champions' League."

He will be looking for new employment if they do not.

United, as he acknowledges, have greater experience of big matches and of Wembley. Of City, he says: "The moment has arrived when we should start. All [our] players are experienced and they know that this is a good moment."

It would be a good moment certainly to prompt the possible withdrawal at last of that gloating message at Old Trafford that marks the number of years since City's last trophy. Such have been the two clubs' contrasting fortunes these past few decades that another equally painful banner was on show in the visitors' section at Stamford Bridge in midweek: "United and City. Joined geographically. Seperated [sic] by success."

Liverpool v Manchester City is on Sky Sports 1 tomorrow, kick-off 8pm. Manchester City v Manchester United is on ITV1 next Saturday, kick-off 5.15pm

News
Courtney Love has admitted using heroin while pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, her daughter with Kurt Cobain
people
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
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

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness