Roberto Mancini calls for Manchester City focus

 

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has told his side to treat every game in their title run-in like a Champions League final.

The Barclays Premier League leaders resume their championship quest following their latest European exploits as struggling Blackburn visit the Etihad Stadium tomorrow.

City have a two-point advantage with 13 games remaining and Mancini is braced for a stern test of resolve in the season's closing months.

The Italian said: "It is impossible to be complacent.

"Every game is like a Champions League final and for this reason we need good concentration.

"Now we have a game against Blackburn on Saturday and I think every game from now until the end will be difficult.

"When you play against a squad playing against relegation, it can be more difficult.

"Blackburn won away against Manchester United and we know they are a good team, they are strong on the counter-attack.

"They have been playing very well in the last two or three weeks. They are playing to get away from the bottom."

City's title challenge is boosted by the return of inspirational midfielder Yaya Toure from the African Nations Cup.

Toure has not played in the Premier League since the victory over Liverpool on January 3, but returned last week to feature in both legs of the Europa League win over Porto.

During his absence, City went out of both domestic cup competitions and suffered a disappointing league defeat at Everton.

Mancini said: "Yaya is a high-quality player, he used to play for Barcelona and he is used to playing to win every game.

"I think his mentality is very strong and that can help all the team.

"But we have other important players and I think it is a good mix."

Since their last Premier League outing - a 1-0 win at Aston Villa a fortnight ago - City have made comfortable progress in the Europa League, beating the Portuguese champions 6-1 on aggregate to set up a meeting with Sporting Lisbon.

Off the field the headlines have also been positive too, with Carlos Tevez returning from his self-imposed exile in Argentina and apologising for his conduct in recent months.

Mancini has accepted the apology, opening up the possibility of a first-team return, but first the striker needs an estimated two or three weeks to recover match fitness.

City are determined to ensure the huge coverage surrounding the issue does not prove a distraction and Tevez, who has not played since September, will only feature again when ready.

First-team coach David Platt said: "He still has a bit of work to do in terms of preparations before he is ready to go on to the pitch. That is probably not what people want to hear.

"There will be a clamour for a Carlos Tevez story but that is not the important thing. The important thing is Manchester City.

"We have to try and temper the clamour. It will take its own course and its own action."

Tevez has been working on his own fitness programme for the past week but, after meeting Mancini yesterday, will be reintegrated into first-team training in due course.

Questions were asked of City's durability in January, when they also lost at Sunderland.

The potential injection of quality offered by Tevez - who has scored 52 goals in 91 City appearances - and the return of Toure are therefore seen as potentially crucial factors in the title race.

Yet Platt insists nobody at the club had been doubting their staying power.

He said: "What belief do we need? After two thirds of the season we sit top of the league.

"We have a group of players and a staff that believe that we can continue to do what we have done for the first two thirds of the season. If we do that we will be hard to shift off the top.

"We feel in a good position with a good dressing room that is full of very important players.

"Hopefully everything will move forward in a positive way."

Platt is aware people will expect City to ease past Blackburn and their relegation rivals Bolton next week.

Yet he also is taking nothing for granted.

He said: "We are getting to the business end of the season but so are Blackburn, so are Bolton.

"Every team in the Premier League has 13 games to go and all have something to play for. The business end counts for 20 clubs."

PA

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