City seek to bounce back against Blues
Manchester City assistant manager David Platt has urged his players to bounce back with victory over Birmingham after their goalless Premier League stalemate in the Manchester derby.
City's tactics against arch-rivals Manchester United on Wednesday have been widely criticised as negative following 90 minutes of risk-free football where neither goalkeeper was seriously tested.
Yet Platt has shrugged off criticism of the performance, noting that City remain in fourth place and on course to achieve their goal of qualifying for next season's UEFA Champions League. "A lot of City supporters look at our team and think we should be beating Manchester United," Platt said. "But the season comes down to far more than just one match.
"It is about making sure that over those 38 league games we are at least in a Champions League position and we give a good account of ourselves in the Europa League and the FA Cup when it comes. Winning trophies is hard but that is an aim. But the objective from the football club, from the players and the manager, is to ensure that we get Champions League football next season."
A win for City over Birmingham on Saturday could see Roberto Mancini's side leapfrog Arsenal, who travel to Everton on Sunday, from fourth to third.
Second placed Manchester United meanwhile travel to Aston Villa in Saturday's early kick-off, knowing that a win will cut Chelsea's lead at the top to one point ahead of their game with Sunderland on Sunday. United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar said the Red Devils could ill afford another draw at Villa Park after sharing the points on no fewer than five occasions already this season.
"A draw against Manchester City is acceptable," Van der Sar said. "The draws against Everton, Fulham and West Brom are hurting us more." Both Patrice Evra and fullback Rafael could miss the trip for United.
Reds seek return of winning form
Liverpool meanwhile will hope to get back to winning ways at Stoke after their mini-revival faltered at Wigan in midweek. Roy Hodgson's side looked on course for a fourth straight league win on Wednesday after the familiar double act of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres set up the opening goal.
However Liverpool were eventually held 1-1, jolting the Reds out of their winning run. Captain Gerrard attributed the blip to the fact Liverpool had played and beaten champions Chelsea only 72 hours earlier. "Maybe our performance suffered after the energy and intensity we put into beating Chelsea," Gerrard said. "You can often find that happening after you play a game 72 hours after a big fixture.
"But we have kept our unbeaten run going, Fernando has got another goal and there are other positives. It's going to be tough at Stoke but we will have to stand up and fight, stick together and if we get a win that would be a superb result."
The Merseysiders will visit a Stoke side buoyant after a rollercoaster 3-2 win against Birmingham on the same night Liverpool were drawing at Wigan. "We know the Liverpool match will be an incredibly tough one for us, so we will another big performance from them on Saturday," Stoke boss Tony Pulis said.
"We've had an unbelievable run of four away defeats and one at home, so it is a big result. I'm pleased for the players and the supporters because they can enjoy the game against Liverpool now, but we've got to keep things in perspective."
Chelsea meanwhile will begin life without long-serving assistant coach Ray Wilkins, who was unceremoniously fired on Thursday amid reports that manager Carlo Ancelotti wanted to inject fresh ideas at Stamford Bridge. Wilkins was alongside Ancelotti in the dugout for Wednesday's win over Fulham, but his deal was terminated "with immediate effect" late on Thursday.