Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini insists his Premier League leaders will not go through the entire season undefeated despite their 3-1 victory over previously unbeaten Newcastle at Eastlands. Mancini's team are the only remaining undefeated side in the top-flight and their impressive run of 11 wins and one draw from the opening 12 games is a Premier League record.
The commanding start has prompted many observers to debate whether City can match the great Arsenal 'Invincibles' side of 2003/04 that went through the whole 38-game league campaign without a single defeat. However, the cautious Italian manager will not entertain such talk. "I hope we continue like this," he said.
"But I think in the 26 games we have left, we will reach a time when we lose a game, I'm sure of it. I'm happy for the players, we've been playing well because of them and, at the moment, we have improved a lot. As players, as a team, we are very strong now but the season is long and there will be difficult moments ahead. For this reason, it's important we know we can score goals and win games in a row."
Mancini, who now turns his attention to Tuesday's vital UEFA Champions League group game in his homeland against Napoli, also picked out fellow Italian Mario Balotelli for special praise. The controversial forward scored the opening goal with a nonchalant penalty before Micah Richards and Sergio Aguero, again from the spot, put City 3-0 ahead. Dan Gosling scored a last-minute consolation for Alan Pardew's side.
"It was fabulous!" said Mancini of the Balotelli penalty. "It's impossible that Mario will ever miss a penalty. Don't ask me why! Mario is a very important player because he's a great player, like all the players at Manchester City. He's become better and better and I'm trying to help him. But he deserves all the praise because he's doing all the work, I'm not doing it. I'm just trying to help him not waste his talent and become the player he can become."
Mancini would not be drawn on whether Balotelli can expect to start in the hostile atmosphere in Naples, although the manager is not underestimating the importance of the game. "I don't know whether he will start," Mancini said. "There are three days and now it is important we recover our strength. It is possible.
"My feeling is good about the Napoli game because I think our team has improved a lot in the Champions League. But I know what we will find in Naples and Napoli this season are playing very, very well at home. If we want to win in Naples we will have to play better than this."
Newcastle manager Pardew believed his team could have gained more from their visit to Eastlands, although he was pleased with the performance of Hatem Ben Arfa, the Frenchman who broke his leg in a horrific collision with City's Nigel de Jong in the corresponding fixture last season.
"I was impressed with him," said Pardew. "The ideas some of the City players present you with, their flair, makes it very difficult for your defenders and I thought Hatem was at that level. He created one or two things, burst away from players, kept possession. To think it is only a year ago that he had that terrible injury, it was a really good performance, he should be proud of that.
"City are the best side we have played by some distance, they are very powerful. We're a good side and how we are going to evolve, how we are going to deal with the disappointment of this, is still unknown."