Mancini: A special game for Barry
Manchester City's Gareth Barry faces his former club Aston Villa on Tuesday, in what is set to be a memorable fixture for the 29-year-old.
After ten years of service at Villa Park, Barry quit Villa at the start of last season, believing that City had more chance of breaking the top-four cartel than the midlands outfit. As the two sides face off on Tuesday, Roberto Mancini accepts Manchester City's meeting with Aston Villa tomorrow holds special significance for Barry, but he wants it to be memorable for a different reason.
As Villa languish in the wrong half of the table under Gerard Houllier, City are motoring along in second spot, a position they consolidated yesterday thanks to an impressive win at Newcastle that Barry set in motion with his first-minute opener. It is justification for Barry's transfer, which would be further enhanced if City can record a triumph over his former club that would take them top of the table, even if that may only for a couple of hours.
"It will be a special game for Gareth," said Mancini. "I haven't spoken to him about it but probably it will be different because he played for Aston Villa for a long time. That is the nature of football."
For Mancini, the more important factor is that his team should not falter, as they did in a similar situation against Everton last week. If they do, it would almost certainly end their title challenge, given City will have played three extra game than United at the final whistle.
Indeed, given his side have lost twice at home and dropped unexpected points to Blackburn and Birmingham at Eastlands, Mancini accepts it is probably the area that could do with most improvement.
"We must do better at home," he said. "Last week we were disappointed because if we had beaten Everton, we would have been top on Christmas Day for the first time in 81 years."
"For that reason it was important to restart with a victory. But the season is very long and we must improve again," said Mancini.
The selfless attitude of James Milner - picked out for special praise by Mancini for his performance against one former club - could come in handy when he takes on Villa, who like Barry, he left to join City's merry band. Milner is one of the few who seem to have bought into the need for Mancini to build a large squad of players who are not going to get a game every week judging by his lack of criticism compared to so many of his team-mates.
However, it does seem attitudes in some quarters at least are beginning to soften, with Joleon Lescott, who is set to step down tomorrow as Kolo Toure is available again after suspension, committing his short-term future to the club after indicating otherwise earlier in the season.
"I have a number of years left on my contract and I want to be part of the success that is coming," he said. "My relationship with Roberto Mancini has never changed. I haven't always agreed with his team selection - when I am not in it - but you have to be professional and live with it," said Lescott.
Rather less easy to placate will be Shay Given, who is now resigned to being no better than back-up to Joe Hart should he remain at the club. But Mancini is still hoping reports of a potential move to Roma prove wide of the mark. "I hope he can stay," said the Italian.
Nevertheless, Given will not be one of the changes to Mancini's starting line-up as the Blues look to minimise the draining effects of a crushing Christmas fixture list.
"There will some changes because it is impossible to play so many matches with the same players," said Mancini. "We have four games in 10 days. This is incredible."